Month: March 2016

Energy independence

Jamaica has a serious energy problem that for some strange reason keeps on getting ignored. With the public at large bawling about JPS bills and manufacturing rates still at anemic levels, how can we change this, how can we be energy independent?

We can start by investing in alternative energy. Building the long proposed hydroelectric dam would go a long way towards easing the burden on fuel imports once it is complete and would lead to massive employment as a spinoff during the construction phase.

Another way in which we can move towards self sufficiency is  by upgrading all the gas powered facilities at JPS. Upgrading them to burn cheaper, cleaner and less volatile LNG also would do miracles to reducing our collective light bills and may become more of a reality if the oil and gas explorations off our coasts are successful.

Converting our dumps to landfills would also be a brilliant move towards the goal of energy independence. With the talk of using the Riverton landfill as a source of energy I ask why end it there? Converting dumps to landfills would mean more access to cheap, readily available renewable energy, if that is done then that has the potential to save millions of U.S. dollars.

However the main thing that would wean us off oil and give us some semblance of energy independence is our sugarcane.
As most people know by now sugarcane byproducts can be used for biofuels, if the government were to target and invest in biofuels while mandating that only cars compatible with biofuels be imported then that would not only deal a death blow to our reliance on oil but also save the sugar industry.

What I propose is not novel or new, it is sheer common sense. With a new government and a smart looking cabinet we wait and see if any of these will be implemented, if they are the JLP may be viewed well historically, if not however, then they condemn themselves and the nation collectively to the dustbin of history.

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Stemming youth unemployment

In Jamaica we have a serious youth unemployment problem. Many young persons leave high school with no hope of getting a job, while worse still many leave university with no access to reasonable employment in there chosen field.

With that comes depression, as the youth leave school and are either left behind or herded into menial paying jobs they see no future. With limited job prospects how can we expect them to fuel the economy or get finance for the brilliant prospect they have?

One issue is that the fields the youth generally wish to study do not tend to lead to great employment. As alluded to in the papers the law field is saturated and while everyone loves a poet, Jamaica is not advanced enough to afford many poets meaningful employment.

So what to do? First a push by the education ministry focusing on the STEM subjects, this has begun but more needs to be done in that regard. We can also aid by actually giving our technical high schools priority, doing this would ensure that the children at those schools would be exposed to quality technical training while equipped with modern tools.

To get those who have left school and are unemployed or working in low jobs with degrees the answers lie in the JDF and farming.

The armed forces as persons should know is a microcosm of society. It needs engineers, it needs mechanics, it needs doctors, nurses and the list goes on, almost any job found in civilian life can be found in the armed forces. All persons, once they leave high school or college should be conscripted to the JDF for a minimum of three years.

This is ideal because the person with no qualifications will learn a skill he can use to make a living, while the person with the degree in political science can learn something that will expand there horizons and move them from the jobs that they are currently over qualified for. They will be qualified, experienced and disciplined, a combination that rarely is found.

For farming that is simply a no brainer. With an import bill that far exceeds what we buy locally as it relates to food it would be madness to not invest in farming. Taking the under and unemployed youths, putting them on modern state of the art collective farms and paying them well would lead to greater productive employment, more money in the economy and a massive reduction in our food import bill.

More investment in technical schools, government focus on STEM subjects, conscription and farming, there in lies the answer to our youth unemployment problem. If we act fast we can save this generation if not however, I fear we will never escape this rut.

Who cares about genocide?

Recently we had black history month and among the fanfare and platitudes laid at the feet of the many black titans we have also had those voices saying slavery and colonisation were good things in the long run for black people.

Putting aside how ridiculous it sounds when first hearing it, it is also factually incorrect. For while it is true that slavery brought the black man out of the ‘dark continent’ during slavery, and brought European industry during colonisation to the colonies but to leave it there is to only look at the surface.

Slavery was genocide, it was the holocaust before the holocaust. It ripped families apart destroyed civilizations and cultures all while depleting Africa of it’s youth, leaving , underpopulated well into the nineteenth century.

Slavery in the Americas was an abomination where one man could fill another with gunpowder and set him alight or bury a man up to his neck, baste him with honey and let the ants have there way with him while facing no ramifications. It was in short barbaric and inexcusable and simply can’t be swept under the rug because the effects are still felt today.

Equally colonisation was a monstrous action undertaken by the great powers. The wanton dividing of areas with scant regard for people and tribes, the deliberate placing of minorities to rule majorities thus fostering hatred and the enforcement of rules through sheer thuggery are all legacies of colonialism that still haunt many a nation in Africa and the Caribbean.

But then again with the logic of the persons who say ‘get over it’ or ‘it was a good thing’, I say, yes and the Jews should get over the holocaust and the Amerindians should get over the genocide, because really, it was so long ago and the Jews got Israel while Amerindians got reserves.

But just as how that argument holds no water and can easily be refuted, so can the argument about slavery and colonisation.

All the aforementioned were atrocities, all were barbaric acts that to this day leave an imprint on us. Slavery ended in 1838, Norman Manley was born in 1893, Michael in the 1920’s, in realistic terms that is a sixty and ninety years or a parent and grandparent.

So let us not take these things lightly, genocide is bad and whatever the ends, they are not always justified by the means. Colonisation and slavery were horrible means to the end of ‘enlightening’ people, just look up west African smelting historically for the proof, they can’t be justified and should be called out for what they are, garbage.

Vybz kartel, the voice of a generation?

It has been almost five years since the artiste Vybz kartel was arrested for murder and two since he was convicted, and yet he continues to top local charts while maintaining his presence in international music. More importantly he remains a critical cultural touchstone for the youth who listen to his music, why is this?

It is my opinion that this is so because Mr Palmer says what the youth feel in there heart but are afraid to say or don’t have the platform to speak on, I will provide a few examples.

As it relates to social issues, no artist as popular as Vybz Kartel in a long time can boast as lengthy a catalogue of ‘concious tunes’. This may come as a shock to persons who are not acquainted with dancehall music, but as persons at UWI can attest he is, and speaks consciously at times.

He continually calls for the educating of those living in squalor, calls for free managed healthcare and education. He highlights the plight of nurses, teachers and all the oppressed as seen in his book while illuminating how the nation reached the depths we are at now. In short he says out loud what every thinking person has been saying silently for years about the country.

We then hit upon his more crass side, his ‘gyal tunes’. A lot of his songs can be called nothing short of lewd, others would go so far as to say offensive even but why sing them? The answer though saddening is simple, that’s how people interact with one another nowadays. How many times do we see ladies not only chatting to, but going home with men who utter sentences that would make a sailor blush? How many times do we hear women openly endorsing ‘slackness’? This however is nothing new, just see Prince Buster and his song ‘wreck a p@$*y’ in the 60’s for proof.

Then we hit upon his indefensible songs, his ‘gangster tunes’. These also are hugely popular, but again why? Again the answer I believe is staring us in the face. We are a traumatized people, from slavery to crown colony to independence we have been systematically traumatized and as a result inherently root for the underdog.

Now in Jamaican terms the underdog usually ends up being a gangster, not only that but we have idealized the gangster life (something first begun in the 70’s). The gangster is seen to embody all things, protector, bread winner, patron and robin hood. This is what the youth or a significant amount aspire to and that’s why those songs are huge hits.

In short Vybz Kartel remains influential because he continues to be everything to everybody. He represents the underclass and dispossessed, he represents for the ‘gyalis’ and he also represents for the gangster.

He does this at times with witty lyrics and at other times with words that feel like a sledgehammer on the ear. He can be soft yet brutal, he is in my opinion the embodiment of the Jamaican experience thus far, incredibly brilliant yet patently insane. Love him or loathe him, he is the voice of a generation.

Can the PNP move the center ground?

It’s been well over thirty years since the PNP did some real introspection and soul searching. Then in the late 70’s-1980 the party battled internally and externally to see which would be the dominant ideology, hardcore socialism or what we now call the neo-liberal outlay.

In the end the neo-liberal faction won out and the PNP which had been markedly left if not left of center came to reside ideologically in the center. Along with this ideological shift came four electoral victories on the trot, this bred complacency and a nonchalant attitude believing that it was PNP country, forgetting the internal turmoil the JLP was undergoing.

Now we have come to a fork in the road I believe. The JLP has finally regrouped and has embraced a ‘humane’ version of neo-liberalism. Socialists like myself and democratic socialists see no hope in the PNP, and they I believe make up the bulk of the PNP YO. We see voices of social progress in the party sidelined or outright booted from positions of hierarchy.

The recent election has shown up the PNP, it has proven them to be ideologically bankrupt. Putting aside how a socialist could get in bed with the IMF (that argument is debatable as we do need economic reform), they came with no vision of hope or upliftment for the people. There was no full throttle call for agricultural reform or housing reform, just more of the same failed policies.

If the PNP is to be relevant again it needs to go back to it’s roots. It’s roots where the workers rights were paramount, where social upliftment and mobility was demanded and yes, where some state intervention is called for in the national interest such as free healthcare. Until the PNP does this it will continue to float, always the bridesmaid never the bride because in the end, why have capitalist lite in the PNP, when you can have the same in the JLP?

The left is vibrant in this country, just ask about. At university campuses the left is still alive and thriving, most social groups and charities also have serious left wing leanings. They just need a banner under which they can unite, that is the tricky bit, but if the PNP can be that banner then they may potentially shift the middle ground politically while regaining credibility in the eyes of the electorate.

Rights and responsibility

Every month seems to be an awareness month nowadays, children’s rights, women’s rights and the lot. We all can appreciate and accept the fact that everyone has inalienable rights, some would go so far as to say god given rights, but what about responsibilities?

The talk of people’s responsibilities often times gets lost during these discussions, but we do this at our peril as rights and responsibilities go hand in hand.

For example, we have the right to freedom of speech in this and most nations and have had it for years. However the responsibility of the people is to ensure that censorship is called out and that people can speak freely without fear of conviction, for once censorship is allowed in one facet it’s only a matter of time before all subjects are politically taboo.

Another example is the right to a clean environment. It is widely accepted that people need clean water and air, therefore clean air and water are basic human rights. However the responsibility falls on the citizen to ensure that they don’t wantonly dump garbage in gullies or the side of the road and that they ensure that cars are environmentally friendly.

Another example is freedom of religion, long viewed as a core right. This too can also only be upheld through the responsibility of the people who must ensure against theocracy and the domination of one religion to the point that other religions are seen are heretical.

These examples I feel show that rights, while important, can be easily overturned or abused and that is where responsibility of the citizen comes into play.

People have a right to vote, but politicians abuse power, the responsibility is then to hold them accountable. Rights are useless unless we are the people are responsible, irresponsibility and dereliction of duty breeds contempt and slowly erodes rights.

So while demanding that our rights be met and upheld, let us not at the same time shirk our responsibilities. Let’s hold politicians to account whichever stripe they wear, let us scold the person dumping garbage all over the place and let us expel those who wish to shut us up. For if we abandon our responsibilities we can be safe in the knowledge that all our hard won rights will disappear.

Water woes

Jamaica has a water harvesting and distribution problem. We are blessed with almost constant rainfall in some parishes and yet we can’t seem to quench our collective thirst.

The JLP has spoken of privatizing the NWC and instead outsourcing the job of water management to foreign companies, I say that is madness. We have seen how private companies operate with utilities as seen with JPS and Cable and Wireless now Flow, and the outcomes are far from satisfactory. At times it’s the same shoddy treatment for an increase in the price.

No, what we need is heavy public sector investment in water, where our existing system is upgraded and areas currently out of the reach of the NWC can be connected. Following on from that we should construct at least two more dams, with one being on the north coast.

All of this can and should be done by the state. Water is a national priority as man can’t live without water, and with so many droughts the state should spare no expense in resolving this issue. Not all debt is bad if the money borrowed is used wisely, this is one area where the state should borrow the money or get a grant to do these projects.

In fact any money invested in water efficiency and systems upgrade would pay for itself in the medium to long term as we would see an increased output in farming as they would no longer have to worry about water. Along with farming, the general public would benefit as they would also be connected to the NWC and getting regular water, that means more money for the NWC that could be used to repay the debts incurred

While that is ongoing, legislation must be passed that ensures that any new building, commercial or residential, has water harvesting technology so that they can ease the burden on the NWC in times of drought.

Placing water and housing under the Office of the Prime Minister is an interesting move and could be revolutionary. If PM puts it on the front burner we could see immediate action as I believe that is something the opposition would have no problem getting behind for the benefit of the nation.

Let us hope that this doesn’t end in the usual manner as the nation simply can’t take it. With farming already on a knifes edge and many areas already bone dry come May the time is short, let us keep water on the front burner because if not, we are all doomed.

How to end an insurgency?

For thirty six years, Jamaica has seen a rapid increase in homicides, greeted by such small declines that we celebrate when under sixteen hundred are killed.

For over forty years gunmen have roamed the streets unchecked, whether with political support as in the 70’s-80’s or without it as seen in the past twenty years, what do we do to stem the flow of blood?

That is the constant refrain we hear, how do we end the madness? Well we can first start by calling it what it is, an insurgency. A violent insurgency against the state is taking place before our very eyes, gunmen have areas that are no go zones for the police and military and as such have set up proto-states where businesses are taxed and people are terrorized into submission.

Acknowledging that we have an insurgency is the easy part, dealing with it is the hard part and I do not envy the current security minister and his position as he has to answer that question.

The way I see it there are three ways to deal with the rampant crime/insurgency. The first option is the most draconian, the Sri Lankan way. The Sri Lankan state was in a civil war for over thirty years with the insurgent Tamil tiger rebels and it seemed to be stuck in a stalemate. That is until the Sri Lanka army took the initiative and bombed Tamil tiger positions indiscriminately, killing many rebels while also slaughtering countless civilians. This was followed up by internment camps for persons viewed as Tamil tiger sympathisers that continue to this day. Drastic methods were used but a thirty year civil war was ended in weeks by that course of action, the trade off being the increased hatred the ethnic Tamils feel towards the state.

Another example of ending an insurgency can be found closer to home in neighboring Colombia. For over fifty years the state has been at war with many groups, mainly the FARC. After half a century of conflict and decades of stalemate the Colombian government took the decision to hold a negotiated settlement of the conflict. This comprises of truth and reconciliation committees, the re-burial of thousands of ‘disappeared’ and the FARC laying down weapons to become a political entity.

And finally we have the Brazil model of slum cleansing. Brazil has a huge violence problem fuelled mainly by the drug trade and rampant corruption, the state was forced to react because they were and are hosting major international events. What the Brazilian government decided to do was send in ‘swat’ teams to clear the slums of the thugs, while later sending in for want of a better phrase social workers to try and mend societal fences. Unfortunately the social workers are undermanned so don’t venture regularly. So instead we hear reports of extra judicial killings, kill squads and the like as the police try to clamp down on areas with a resurgence in crime.

Jamaica can discount the first two options. We can’t shell these communities into submission because that would defeat the purpose of re-integration, nor can we offer an olive branch to these persons because this is not a political war but one of thugs verses the last remnants of law and order. That leaves the Brazilian option, and while it is obvious that the program has not been implemented well, it is still very good on paper.

Going into garrisons with force is needed yes, but force alone will solve nothing. Insurgencies come alive for many reasons but are sustained because a large enough swath of the population wills it, because of ignorance and lack of opportunities.

Social workers must be apart of the solution, re-education and re-integration are a must, providing disenchanted youth with realistic opportunities is a must or else we will end up like Sri Lanka winning the war and losing the peace, or like Brazil, just sweeping issues under the rug.

The answer at the end of the day is simple in theory at least. Force must be used, but calculated force, along with an incursion of state aid and social care, the social care and aid is the key. All too often we think that we can use brute force alone to deal with ‘societies dregs’, but we forget that they are people with hopes, dreams and aspirations.

If a serious effort was done by the state as it relates to care and aid then after the security forces go back to base, which they must, then instead of being greeted by an angry uprising ten years down the line, we will be met by people who while scarred will be ready to meet and be less apprehensive about entering the state.

Politics trumps statesmanship/it’s politics stupid

The cabinet has been named, very small, very technical and on the face of it very good. One commends the placement of Mr Reid as education minister and Dr Tuffton as health minister and is then content to sit back.

But upon closer examination we see a cabinet not filled with young dynamic talent, but instead one only with a veil of youth hiding what must be called political dinosaurs.

Simple arithmetic shows us that the majority of the ministers are either around or above retirement age. Take for example Karl Samuda, certainly not a young man and one who admits that he will not be seeking re election after this parliamentary term is up, yet he is a minister.

Derrick Smith is another example, a man who is constantly in need of dialysis clearly does not have the physical capacity to do anything yet he too is a minister, the list goes on.

With at leas twelve ministers over the age of fifty, one is forced to ask where is the supposed youth, or is fifty still considered youthful? The answer to the above question is simple, politics. Karl Samuda, despite his imminent retirement still retains considerable clout within the party, as does Mike Henry.

Many of Andrew’s closet confidants were from the old guard, like Desmond and Olivia so it is again natural that he rewards there loyalty with political appointments.

This is not a knock against Andrew but instead a comment on the cold hard reality, that in spite of his victory at the polls he still is not in a strong enough position to act as freely as he wants (looking at you Audley). Call the cabinet vibrant, call it small, call it technical but don’t call it youthful when it is stacked with dinosaurs for political purposes.

First blood young Turks

The young Turks have made the first move in the PNP war of succession over the weekend, and since then the bloodletting seems to be constant.

It all started Saturday with a post by Patrick Roberts openly endorsing Julian Robinson for PM in 2020, a not so subtle hint that both he and potentially Julian are about to go all in with the leadership contest.

More was to follow, on Sunday the papers were awash with PNP related stories. All were critical of the PNP hierarchy, all called the campaign a shambles and they all called for root and branch reform. What made these pieces all the more interesting is that they came from PNP friendly people and PNP stalwarts, never a good sign when stalwarts become critical or jump ship like Mr Nicholson.

However the young Turks don’t seem to have it all sorted out. Paulwell still controls the delegates and, as of Tuesday, at least two other ‘Turks’ have emerged with Bunting and Hannah.

This is politically dangerous, for both the young Turks and the party as a whole. Any divisions amongst the young Turks will be exploited by an old guard that knows how to play the game. The young Turks must know that they are viewed as an insurgency by the old guard and that they will go through hell and back to ruin you politically if you pose a threat.

Again I say the only hope the Turks have is to rally around someone, they must put aside personal ambition for the greater good. This is bigger than the PNP, a functioning opposition results in balanced governance while a fractured or non existent opposition spells doom and despotism.

Julian, Lisa, Damion, Raymond and Bunting need to sit down and chart a course. Some form of agreement is needed between the emerging warring factions, if not the PNP is doomed to a long period of insignificance and internal strife.