Month: April 2016

Free up the weed

During the previous administration a major milestone was achieved, after decades of debates, studies and research papers ganja was decriminalized. This though a small step opened the door to potential riches and intellectual properties and patents.

The decriminalization though a good first step does not go far enough and we should really be considering full legalization. Legalisation of ganja would open up many avenues for government revenue collection as well as boosting employment in Jamaica especially amongst the youth.

If ganja were legalized then the farmer would be able to harvest in peace assured that his crop won’t be harassed by the police. He would be able to bring said harvest to a central location like coffee and then get paid based on the quantity and quality.

Full legalization also makes sense if we are to truly focus on STEM subjects in schools. Ganja as many a Jamaican will tell you has multiple uses from painkiller to appetite opener. If we are to become a player on the medical market then research has to be done without restriction, this can only be done with full legalization as decriminalization leaves those wishing to work on it (without a scarce license) in a grey zone and that is a major turn off for many researchers.

Legalisation could be a blessing for the manufacturing sector as well. With the weed legal they can manufacture clothes, cloth, rope and pharmaceuticals. That coupled with green energy could see Jamaica again becoming a player on both regional and international fields.

Fear should not be a factor in this discussion. We are already behind California as it relates to ganja and with Canada looking like it will legalize the weed we need to act fast if we are to have any viable influence in the ganja economy.

Ganja has the capability to be what cane once was, a job creator. With jobs ranging from growing all the way to making paper jobs are created and varied jobs too which would only be beneficial with our high unemployment rate.

Ganja could be a blessing but we need to act quickly. Hopefully this is something that both government and opposition can work together on because if we don’t act fast we may lose the chance forever.

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The diaspora vote

Statements made both before and after the election to the effect of giving members of the diaspora the vote in Jamaican elections is an interesting one. It is one that has brought up many talking points and a lot of debate about it either side of the aisle.

Let me state up front that my initial instinct is to continue to deny the diaspora the right to vote. No matter what clauses you put in they can be overturned because money talks and soon we will be ruled by an elite that doesn’t even reside or pay taxes here.

But that argument is for another day, as it looks now a lot of persons on both sides of the aisle fancy the idea so we must ensure that we make the best possible plan.

If the diaspora is to have the vote then ensure that they have Jamaican electoral identification that can be obtained at embassies and consulates, that way we can at least have a register of the amount and there whereabouts. We can then move to allow for mailing ballots and early voting. These however should not just be limited to the diaspora but also available to local residents who are either going abroad or are already abroad temporarily due to business etc.

The diaspora must also pay taxes of some form if they are to vote as representation without taxation is just as unjust as taxation without representation. Forcing them to pay some Jamaican tax is also convenient because it separates those who genuinely want to vote from those not really interested while at the same time filling our desperately low coffers.

Then we can enact legislation that controls the lobbyists, this may not yet be a major issue politically but it is my view that once we allow the diaspora to vote we will be swamped with lobbyists from abroad in an unregulated environment. And as any country with unregulated political lobbying can attest to, the people’s interest is fast forgotten for a quick buck and all the more so if you can’t feel the negative effects because you are a non-local.

The discussion relating to the number of MP’s that should represent them in parliament is simple, two. The majority of the diaspora lives either on the north American continent or Europe, namely the United kingdom so they would represent them and there interests. It is also a convenient number because it does not upset the parliamentary balance, adding two more MP’s would leave us with sixty five MP’s and avoid the hung parliament in our two party system.

As it relates to how the diaspora feel about it, that doesn’t concern me. They can stop sending remittances anytime, they don’t pay taxes here and they don’t have to put up with the madness of the Jamaican government, they are lucky that we are even discussing letting them have the vote.

But as I said it seems to be something that both parties are interested in so let’s make the most of it. Let’s ensure that those who reside in Jamaica are looked out for while the diaspora has all the rights and that enumeration brings. Let us ensure that we do not cede too much power to our loved ones abroad, because to do that could lead to some interesting times as the Chinese saying goes.

My parents generation failed us.

My parents were born in the late 50’s early 60’s and came up during Jamaica’s ‘golden age’, where the economy was humming albeit with inequality levels that would make one’s eyes water. They were shaped by the 70’s and 80’s politics and got there chance in 89.

Needless to say the story ended badly as that generation allowed for whatever reasons an unimaginative PNP steer the ship for nigh on two decades.

That generation that lived through some exciting times politically with achievements not limited to one party (see HEART and NHT), instead of acting boldly and with vision fell into a stupor that they haven’t recovered from.

A generation raised on issues based politics fell back on partisan lines, a generation led by giants such as Manley and Seaga has offered up nothing that can match them in spite of more opportunities. A generation that received so much now offers so little politically.

This is not to say that they haven’t been successful in other areas, who in the 50’s could have dreamt of black bank tellers let alone a large black middle class?

Socially we have come a long way and our parents deserve credit for that, but politically they have failed us. The fact is that they gave us seventeen years of stasis by voting consistently for the PNP and not for shaking up the JLP hierarchy sooner.

The question now is, will my generation that came of age in 07 follow our parents lead. Will we allow for shoddy leadership and will we allow for partisan issues to separate us or will we unite? That is a question that fast needs answering because Jamaica can’t afford another bad generation politically.

Arguments against homosexuality

The debate about homosexuality has been heating up over the past decade and many persons in opposition to homosexuality and the repealing of the buggery act cite scripture and Jamaica being a Christian society as the roots of there opposition.

That for me is laughable because it simply is misrepresenting the truth. It is true that the good book comes down harshly on buggery, and it is also true that our laws have some grounding in judeo-christian values but we also routinely cherry-pick which laws to follow.

We allow common law marriage which is just a fancy way of two people shacking up and nobody complains on biblical grounds. We entitle bastard children to equal rights again all is mum with biblical complaints. We even go so far as to allow women to have seniority (note not activity) in the church and the majority of biblical scholars applaud.

Now, some do complain on all these issues and really preach that fourth century lifestyle. But the majority don’t, they move with the times, adjust and reinterpret scripture as suits them.

I would have more time for the anti gay lobby if they dropped the charade of religiosity and called a spade a spade. They don’t like homosexuality because it disgusts them, and that frankly is a reasonable position to have, they don’t accept homosexuality because it is weird and different and a ‘foreign’ culture.

All of the above are reasonable positions to hold, and one that I’m sure no gay lobbyists would hold over people’s heads. But to ground your opposition in a book written two thousand years ago, when a lot of the book isn’t followed as is does a serious disservice to the church, an institution that love them or hate them has always had reasoned thought behind it’s decisions.

In Jamaica the argument is largely won, the church has the voice both socially and politically and it knows how to use it and use it it does. But, they must get over the habit of grounding personal dislike and dissatisfaction in scripture because quite frankly it looks petty, reeks of hypocrisy and shames the institution that used to use reason and not the bully pulpit to bring forth there arguments.

Free education

The government led by the minister of education is hell bent it seems to abolish auxiliary fees at secondary schools all while pumping more money into education and secondary schools in particular. This on the face of it looks lovely as most parents can’t afford them and eats away at there spending power, however like most things ‘free’ there is always a hidden cost.

Let us be frank for a minute, a school like George’s will always be ok because they have a vast old boys network who work diligently and willfully fund the school and it’s various projects. Unfortunately not all schools have that kind of network to cover the inevitable financial shortfall, so instead of education being the great equaliser it will become more segregated with the haves having greater access to education while the have nots make do with what they have.

Listening to principals one hears the plight of the schools, woefully underfunded and fast losing there best and brightest to lands abroad and that is with the auxiliary fees. Those same principals are saying that the proposed money the government is offering to make up the lost fees are still twelve percent short of the already anemic budget. The government and people simply must have a real sit down, we need to understand that ‘free’ in government language means taxpayers paying for it.

Once we have that discussion we can then make a mature decision about the funding of secondary education. I understand where mr Reid is coming from, however he seems to still be blinkered by his old schools, JC and Munro, traditional schools that have weathered many a storm and who’s old boys network includes prime minister’s and the like.

In the end if this is implemented as planned we can expect the usual suspects to do well while the non traditional schools struggle to keep above water. Things can however change, if we widen our tax net (grab those not paying) ensure that parents who can do pay auxiliary fees. With the wider tax net we cold afford to spend more on schools and those who pay auxiliary fees would be boosting there children’s schooling experience.

In short, lovely words by minister Reid, I just hope that the government goes on a campaign drive to not only promote, expand and add more resources to non traditional schools but to also press home what free means. If not then we will be wilfully condemning a generation to poor schooling coupled with grumbles about taxation, in other words we will be stuck with the short end of the stick.

Regional business influence

Much chatter has recently been about our manufacturing sector including how we can boost local consumption and how we can have more of an imprint regionally by having our goods on foreign shelves. Many manufacturers talk the talk but when really examined they rarely walk the walk.

Snacks and beverages are a perfect example. Barbados has a plant here or has licensed it’s products, as have countless Trinidadian companies yet you would be hard pressed to find a Jamaican company operating in Haiti let alone the Eastern Caribbean (as it relates to regional manufacturing). One can’t expect to break into a market if one hasn’t even established distribution links and the fact that we have no factory our distribution outlet in the eastern Caribbean where manufacturing is cheaper speaks loudly as it relates to priorities and target markets.

All of that however is small change when we look north, just ninety kilometers away. Cuba is slowly opening it’s economy, and while some think it will be a flinging open of the doors I think it will be a crack to let light in and that could be excellent news for us.

Cuba will wish to trade with nations that have stood by it but also have something to offer it. Jamaica has probably one of the wealthiest regional conglomerates in Grace Kennedy and one of the most dynamic in Lasco, if they could get there foot in the door then it’s advantage Jamaica. These companies in particular and others cover a broad span of products, pride themselves on local produce and manufacturing and are very profitable while being very affordable to the everyman. If our manufacturing companies were to target Cuba for both exports and manufacturing that would greatly boost the respective companies profits, provide money to Jamaica and Cuba through taxes and provide good employment to local Cubans.

The opening up of Cuba could also be a boon for our medical and pharmaceutical sector. Our medical and pharmaceutical sector is still in it’s infancy, more so when compared to our Cuban counterparts. If we as a nation are serious about our science and research sector and diversifying our economy then retaining our top scientists and researchers is a must and they will only stay if they have adequate funding or equipment. Alone we can provide little of either, but teaming up with the Cuban medical and pharmaceutical sector with which we already have strong links would be a good start.

We are also home to some world renowned hoteliers and Cuba is looking to expand it’s tourist sector. Rather than be afraid and view it as a specter these hoteliers should invest in Cuba’s hotel sector from the get go. If that is done then we could link our local hotels with those in Cuba while being able to access relatively cheap foodstuffs that we don’t produce in abundance locally for our hotel sector. This can be done almost without a pause, already we have a decent cohort of managers in the tourist sector fluent in Spanish thanks to Spanish companies investing in Jamaica’s hotel industry. This coupled with the vast experience that we as a nation and the managers in particular have they should have no problem in Cuba.

The unspoken truth of Cuba is that while the majority might not have much, there is a group of extremely wealthy persons in Cuba. If becoming a financial hub is really on our scope then maybe our local financiers and capital market should seek out these wealthy Cubans who will no longer be restricted by sanctions and will be looking to invest.

We as a nation have industry and industrialists, we have expertise in some fields and we also are awash with cash if you look in the right places. In short we have no excuse to not be a major player both financially and industrially in the region, so let us stop complaining about our trade imbalance and do something about it. Let us not fear the opening up of Cuba but instead ready ourselves for what could be a potential windfall.

He who is without sin

Jamaica is a strange country in many ways, religion and sex are a perfect example. Our religion is largely based on puritanical, evangelical doctrines while sexually well, to put it politely we show no restraint.

This strange anomaly can also be found in prostitution, for while many a Jamaican male has engaged in a monetary transaction with a woman for sex, the people almost to a man are against the legalisation or decriminalization of prostitution.

Apart from the blatant hypocrisy that the position above entails, what irks me the most is that most of them miss the point of decriminalizing prostitution. The point of decriminalization is not to ‘free up’ the sex as so many would have you think, but instead used to monitor, care for, counsel and eventually find a way out of prostitution.

If it decriminalized then these persons would come out of the woodwork and would be registered, TRN, NIS everything. They could then be monitored as it relates to hours worked, ensure that they choose the number of clients, that they are paid properly and that they not only use contraceptives but also get regular health checkups and insurance.

Finally they can be counseled and taught about the hazards of that profession, they can be exposed to centers of safety and they can receive a decent education. In short they can be shown a way out of the perils of ‘working the streets’.

All of this can be done, but only if we first have a mature discussion about prostitution. It isn’t going anywhere, from the rent a dread on the north coast to the women on Rippon road, the demand will always be there and persons will unfortunately for differing reasons choose to supply it. The onus isn’t on us to condemn, it is to look at why they do this and how to both stop people from entering while extracting those already involved from the ‘profession’.

This my friends can only be done if they are in the system and they can only enter the system through decriminalization. One doesn’t have to like something to decriminalize it, look at alcohol, but once it’s decriminalized then it can be regulated and avenues can be put in place to get them out. The question of would you want your daughter doing it is also a silly one, because while no father wishes to have there daughter enter prostitution, if they did enter it they would pray they were safe and had ways out.

So let’s stop the hypocrisy and back and forth and have the discussion and then decriminalize it. Because then we can tax, regulate, care for and help out of that line of work. If not it will remain prevalent, shady, underground and rife with trafficking and disease, something that in the long run could come back to haunt us.

Brilliant election ploy, rope to strangle themselves or both?

And so the long expected backtracking has begun, minister of finance Audley Shaw has said there will be a delay in the disbursement of our eighteen thousand dollars, but that we shouldn’t worry because it will be implemented come hell or high water.

I personally was in the camp that was saying that it sounded nice but needed more explication because even my inexperienced eyes saw a huge tax gap so I am pleased that they will take time to work out the kinks before rolling it out, but politically it is interesting.

Most persons hearing and voting based on the tax plan are not slightly versed in economics and accounts let alone well versed in those fields so they can’t see through the fog of promises and ask how will it be funded. A perfect example is our public health system, it was made totally free during the last JLP administration in order to keep promises made during the campaign. The system that was already short staffed was now totally overburdened, no forward planing was done, it was left to rot and we end up with the present reality.

Before we rush into this tax plan we need to do our maths and have outside sources advise us as to how feasible it is. We need to weigh the pros and cons of the situation and see if it is not only fair but also equitable, and if it isn’t then scrap it for now.

And that’s where it gets interesting politically. The JLP knows it’s fortunes and slender lead are in no small part tied to this tax plan and that puts them in a tricky situation. If they realize that implementing the tax plan would derail our meager recovery then that would force them to think twice, but if the people do not get the relief in the timely manner as promised then surely that would spell the beginning of the end of this administration.

This puts the JLP in a really strange situation, if the need arises and they act like statesman and nation builders then it could cost them seriously at the polls, while if they act like the power hungry politicians of old they would implement it, secure another term and consequences be damned.

These are interesting times and the ‘literate minority’ is watching this keenly for the outcome. All can agree that tax relief is needed as I’m sure we all agree that good governance is needed. Sometimes statesmen finish last, only remembered years down the line, nation builders make the tough decisions because they can see a future. Let us hope that if the need arises this administration takes the role of nation builders and statesmen, because if not that would not only expose there hypocrisy but also damn the country to continue the same cycle. Let’s hope they do the right thing and forget about shot term consequences like an electoral loss, because if they do history will absolve them.

Chances blown for the Young Turks?

As of Sunday April tenth of this year it seems that the PNP Young Turks have blown there chances of grasping power in the immediate future. To some they may say that the race is still in it’s early stages but here I wish to point out where the Young Turks have failed and how it may cost them.

Almost immediately after the general election loss the knives were out for Portia Simpson-Miller and those who were in tune politically knew it. If the Young Turks were to have any chance they had was to unite behind one of there own, create a front of youth and a smattering of experience and run as a ‘combined ticket’.

Instead we have a Julian Robinson sleeper campaign, we have Lisa Hannah not subtly hiding her aspirations and Peter Bunting openly saying that he is interested, instead of creating a united front they close bridges to success. We see the continuation of the open hounding of persons like Crawford and Pryce who dare to speak against the party line and as such these Turks lose vital political capital in the eyes of a public that loves these two individuals.

The old guard as expected has coalesced around it’s preferred candidate but strange things seem to be happening there. With Paulwell (who is no political novice) saying that now is not his time but that he likes Phillips (the man of the hour) you have to sit up and take notice.

Could it be that Paulwell who controls delegates and a safe seat, is paving the way for his ascension through Phillips by proxy? Phillips is not a young man, and will be all the more older whenever the next election is called, while Paulwell is still a sprightly fifty something. Are the old guard offering up Peter Phillips, a man who’s reputation they know can’t be associated with the taint of scandal, as a place holder for the preferred candidate Paulwell so that he can burnish his reputation for a future run?

It wouldn’t be that surprising a move, for no matter what you think of the PNP old guard they are savvy political operators.

That move if it comes off could scuttle any chance the Young Turks have of shifting the ideological ground and mentality of the PNP. Peter Phillips good man that he is, is of the PJ Patterson mould ideologically, dead in the center but flirts with the idea of ‘populist rhetoric’.

With the JLP now seemingly comfortable in its neoliberal skin the PNP needs to find it’s voice and fast. The Young Turks say the right things and seem to have there hearts in the right place, but that means nothing without power. In order to make the change that they so dearly preach about and say they believe in they must put aside personal ambition, form a credible bloc with MPs and delegates and challenge the leader whether publicly or privately, if not then the old guard will have the upper hand and it is my belief that once they have it they will be all the more harder to remove.

Manufacturing muddle

Recently we have had another call for a boycott on goods from Trinidad and Tobago. The industrialists state this is because Jamaicans have been treated with outright disrespect by Trinidadian authorities while the common man says it is because the Trinis are looking to dominate the Caribbean through economics and bullying (see the cases taken up by the industrialists). All of this is good to hear, we need more nationalism and patriotism in this country but where will it lead and what will it achieve?

As it relates to manufacturing the industrialists and the government’s of the past forty years must take the blame for the current state of affairs. Our major manufacturers (Lasco, Grace Kennedy etc) have done well and can be regarded as giants financially in the region but they have little impact in supermarkets across the region people complain. Why then do they not setup a manufacturing and distribution center in that part of the region like the countless trini companies and WIBISCO do in Jamaica to gain access to the western Caribbean?

Why do they not buy and acquire eastern Caribbean manufacturers to get a foothold in the region like what Sagicor or the company that bought Carib Cement did?

We will be told naturally that it is not easy, well nothing worth doing is. The companies like Lasco and Grace have flourished in Jamaica in spite of forty years of economic bedlam, they have matured in spite of the local anarchy and Byzantine business laws, so why not chance it in the east where the business climate is more friendly?

When it comes to how the Trinidad immigration authorities treat our nationals the answer is simple and two parted. We must insist that they cease this unjust practice or take it to court while at the same time looking deeply within ourselves.

We as a nation have a reputation, great rum, great music, great beaches, great sports many literary giants and crime. Crime, my friends is what people, especially this side of the world associate with Jamaica, especially a Jamaican who looks and acts a certain way. Crime in the eastern Caribbean wasn’t unheard of in the past, it went on, but one would be lying if you denied that a lot of gang related activity in the Caribbean, Trinidad included, has some Jamaican connection, even if it’s just that the individual criminal happened to come from Jamaica.

We need to look within ourselves and deal with our crime problem and our broader societal issues. Until we do that, Jamaicans, especially poorer ones will continue to be harassed and unjustly treated at many ports of entry.

In short yes I agree with the boycott, but not unless our manufacturers take that leap of faith and jump fully into the eastern Caribbean and not until we as a society start to seriously address our problems. Because to not do so would be a waste of time, without the leap of faith the trade imbalance will remain and without introspection and change our citizens will continue to be harassed and we will be back at square one.