Author: Alexander Scott

Cornwall Regional Hospital. It’s bigger than Chris

With the recent scandal at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH), the nation is up in arms. Persons are foaming at the mouth, rightly so, wondering why individuals -doctors and patients- were forced to occupy a hospital which was in such a bad condition. Persons are incredulous and rightfully demand to know why the information (while made public) was not broadcasted better. There is amongst all of this the demand that the relevant minister (in this case Dr Tuffton) be reprimanded, fired even for what looks like a shocking dereliction of duty.

Now it is true that as the minister of health this debacle is his remit, it is also true that as MOH he would have had first-hand information as to just how bad things were at CRH; however I feel that persons who are calling for his head are failing to see a big picture and how this crisis could benefit us (the people) if used right.

The bigger picture in all of this is that of collective responsibility, one of the few good things which we have in our governance structure. Collective responsibility, or Cabinet collective responsibility, in simple terms means that while the individual minister may personally disagree with a cabinet proposal, once it is taken they must all show collective unity on the issue. Collective responsibility is supposed to be one of the safeguards of this Westminister system and yet we see it constantly ignored as seen in this issue (and countless others).

Collective responsibility means that instead of the PM going AWOL and leaving it to the object of the peoples hate, he would speak on the issue as he is not only a part of, but heads the cabinet. It would mean that the MOF would speak on the matter, not only because everything passes through that ministry, but also because he is a part of the cabinet. The fact is that something of this nature would have been brought to the entire cabinets notice (the papers show the MOH allocating funds from last year) and nothing was done. One is left to assume that they all agreed to just sit on the matter as none of them would be going there for treatment anytime soon.

This is a matter which is much bigger than Mr Tuffton in my opinion as it strikes at the heart of one of the things so wrong in Jamaica. This is a matter quite frankly bigger than simply the JLP, as too often we have had ‘youthful exuberance’ and millions of dollars wasted on non-existent bridges from both green and orange. Each time these things happen the leaders and remainder of the cabinet vanish and the minister is left as the scapegoat, that is a scenario begging for corruption. Either the entire cabinet was privy to what was going on -in which case they all need to answer starting with the PM- or Tuffton was withholding critical news from his team members and we should be told of this gross infraction (unlikely as the AG was in the loop).

Going after the health minister alone in this scenario would lead us down a path we recently trod with the Jubilee scandal. The minister apologises, takes his licks and is moved to a dead end ministry. We saw this played out during the Patterson administration and we saw it during the Golding/Holness administration, nothing has changed for the better in those two decades. This is so, in my opinion, because the cabinet (but mainly the PM) is safe in the knowledge that regardless of whatever happens, the relevant minister will fall on their sword to save the administration from the wrath and glare of the public (akin to throwing a dog off the scent).

There is no reason why they can not or should not uphold something as crucial yet simple as this. It is, after all, not a concept alien to anyone in either of our two dominating parties both of whom practice some variant of democratic centralism. Is it a case where party rules and norms trump that of governmental/cabinet regulations?

That, in my opinion, is what we are facing in the big picture and what must be fought against. We must not let our raw emotions rule us and go solely after Dr Tuffton (though he does deserve special treatment), we must ask the administration the tough questions. Who knew what, and when did they know it? We must demand not only the health minister fall on his sword but other high flying cabinet members who must have or should have known.

To call for the fall of the administration is a bit too harsh, even for me, everyone should be given some scope to grow (or hang themselves). To insist that more than the MOH be pilloried is not, however, and much precedent has been set it all of our Commonwealth and Westminister brethren. It is high time that our governing elites realize that they have responsibilities, and one of them is that they all must be on the same page as it relates to policy and actions taken. They must also realize that failure to live up to those responsibilities have real and serious consequences, for all of them. If we fail to hold them all to account now for this then we can expect the next administration to continue along the same path, a path that is clearly leading nowhere.

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The NATO disease spreads with its Syria bombing

‘Once more unto the Breach!’ The fact that we are here again witnessing the US, UK and France getting involved in the Middle East is both sad, disgusting, enraging and disheartening. That these nations leaders could decide to return with violence to that region, this time Syria, after all of their costly (in every concept of the word) blunders though in reality is not all that shocking. These persons are, after all, imperialists and they have and will continue to act as imperialists have always done, that is, kill, pillage and enslave/exploit any nation that is weak enough and which has enough of what they want.

That these leaders should want to do these barbaric acts, while disgusting, is not shocking nor is it all that disappointing, what is both shocking and disappointing however is how the majority of persons in those countries are seemingly ok with the actions of their leaders.

Take for example the war in Lybia; Majority of the population of these countries supported that war as some kind of humanitarian intervention, they believed the media hype about battalions raping people and other stories which were propagated by their respective media houses. They were touched when they saw images of the carnage which was taking place as Gaddafi’s planes opened up on the rebels and their strongholds and as such, went to war.

The truth is that while rape did take place -this sick act has always been used in war, no nations army which has fought a major conflict is immune from that charge- there were no battalions raping people (the UN found those reports to be false). The truth also is that while Gaddafi’s planes were effective, he had lost two-thirds of the nation and the army was defecting at a rapid pace. In other words, the need for intervention was not really necessary, but invade they did. As a result, Lybia will probably never be functional again, they have open-air slave markets (way to go Obama), more guns than most places on earth and is a hotbed for the West’s favourite enemies (radical Islamic terrorists).

That these persons, who after the illegal invasion of Iraq swore never again could go to war again on such spurious charges, who can’t state often enough how appaled they are of the goings on in the Mediterranean, can ok this is disgusting and surely a bridge too far. It must be clear now that the majority of persons in those nations really have no problem with the murderous, imperialist actions of their governments.

Sure, massive amounts of persons protested in 2003 against the then looming invasion of Iraq, but opinion polls consistently showed the majority of persons believing the blatant and obvious lies which were called intelligence. Sure, persons tweeted that the Obama administration should not destroy Lybia, but the polls showed that the majority again supported the bombing. It seemed that sanity was somewhat restored to those peoples in 2013 when in an overwhelming show of force stayed the hand of both the British and American war-machines, but it is clear now that this incident was a one-off, a flash in the pan. Here we are, witnessing massive support in those nations for a military foray abroad.

It is not inconceivable that Assad would gas his own people, leaders do crazy things all the time. However, does it not strike these people as odd that the bombs should start falling hours before OPCW personnel were to arrive to investigate? Does it not strike anyone as weird that this took place shortly after consulting the Noble House of Saud (mortal enemies of Assad)? That these people have fallen for the Iraq style lie (in shiny new clothes and a new tailor) after only fifteen years -and shortly after the anniversary to boot- can only point to the population of those countries either just not giving a damn or supporting the aggression.

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Some may say ‘Isn’t it a bit harsh to blanketly label all those citizens as disgusting?’; To that, I say no. Those persons who marched on the streets in ’03 voted for Obama in 2012 (after he had merrily expanded the US military theatres of operation) and are the same ones (for the most part) crying that a tried and tested warmonger lost to an un-tested warmonger. These people who marched in ’03 voted for Sarkozy, Hollande, Blair, Cameron and May, persons who do nothing but epitomise the concept of imperialism and global domination, in doing that they show their hand and whose side they are truly on.

The people of those nations, the powers of the world who are using the Middle East and the rest of the global south as some sort of chess board or wholesale where they can pick up resources on the cheap, are just as culpable for the devastation meted out to the third world as their governments. If they wish for those accusations to stop, if they truly wish that every time they go to those nations they aren’t met with bile and suspicion then they must change how their governments act. Those persons who yearn for the third world to rise up and shake off the imperialist yoke need to do their job in their imperialist nations to bring it down or admit that they are not only benefiting from these imperial ventures but actually endorse them.

The third world has long tired of your belated sympathy and 20/20 hindsight realizations that your actions were counterproductive, it does not take a genius to realize that to respond to a man ‘gassing his own people’ by bombing heavily populated areas makes no sense.

Again this is no apology for Assad who has done ill to certain segments of the population, but the masses are within his control (territory controlled by the SAA consists of over 70% of the Syrian population and grows as persons flee rebel-held territory) and voted for him and the US and her NATO allies have no mandate to be there. So for her citizens to bay for the blood of Assad or the new Public Enemy number one I say you support Imperialism and all it means, and to those who sit at their keyboards typing in angst thinking they are subverting their state you need to get a clue. You are part of the problem and will continue to be part of the problem until you wake up and see that your respective nations foreign policy hasn’t really changed that much from the nineteenth century for the Europeans and the Twentieth century for the US.

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Let’s deal with the IMF if we want real change in Jamaica

Let’s deal with the IMF if we want real change in Jamaica

Jamaica is falling apart, anyone who has eyes can see this. If one looks past the high-rises, BPO centres and car-marts (all shiny new things) you get to see roads in desperate need of repair, sewage mains no longer functioning and buildings in general disrepair. For example, when it rains roads flood and people have to swim in the business district of this nation, the state can’t afford to purchase cars for the police and as seen over the past few years the hospitals cant even get funding to ensure patients and medical staff aren’t exposed to dangerous conditions.

It is normal, almost reflexive in these situations to blame the government (or in our case the two incompetent parties). It is normal to cry for blood and demand that something is done about the injustice. It is normal and even correct to say that the decades of mismanagement by both parties (though one party did have a longer time at the wicket) have led to the nation being at the breaking point where even the bare basics now seem to be failing us. It is normal to feel this way and demand justice but we must understand that today, the persons who really have control over what is done is not the governing JLP, it is instead the IMF.

Let us be honest, politicians may be liars, they may be thieves and they may say asinine things, but they do enjoy being elected. So how is it that the party which was swept into office with the help of the scandal at Jubilee and all of the ills which face the nation, and still continue to do (or not do) the same things as the last administration which was embarrassed at the polls? This is so because, in spite of what the PM may want to have us believe, he does not run the country he simply takes directives from the IMF.

The facts are that since at least the last administration tax revenues have exceeded initial projections. The facts are that since the last administration we have had a budget surplus of at least 7% and sometimes higher. The fact also is that we cant spend that money, not because we don’t want to, not because we have nowhere to practically spend it, but because the IMF has stated that those monies be used to pay off our debt (a debt which almost all agree we cant hope to pay off).

This piece is not here to lay the blame squarely at the feet of the IMF or to say that Jamaica’s politicians have always been hindered by this institution. If one wishes to criticize IMF policies and where they lead one can look at the pieces written on the Philippines and Indonesia (both of which are still crippled by their IMF flirtations), and if one wishes to look at how local politicians have sold us out and raped us (financially) they can read the numerous volumes in UWI and Gleaner archives.

However, the situation today is that even if our politicians wanted to change their ways from that of rapacious highwaymen to nation builders and lay some social groundworks they couldn’t, because the IMF regulations are so stringent and limiting in their room for manoeuvre.

Social groups who are lambasting the government for underfunding institutions though well-intentioned are barking up the wrong tree. Persons and movements which demand money be put aside for housing and other areas are looking to wrong people. And the opposition which says they will do more for the people in these areas speak lies as they know that the boss won’t allow for it. The situation in which we find ourselves in today in this nation is that of two parties who do basically the same thing ( implementing austerity measures), and even if we were to get a party who wanted to invest heavily in the state couldn’t because of outside forces.

It is a Greek-like situation, where national politicians are simply enforcing rules passed on from their financial (and therefore political) masters. We simply must get rid of the IMF as a force in this nation if we truly want to advance the country. Only then will we begin to have a government truly accountable to the people and therefore (in theory anyway) able to properly invest in the nation. Then politicians will no longer have the excuse of saying ‘the surplus cant be touched’ as hospitals are evacuated for want of maintenance and upkeep. Then we will actually be able to discuss things such as what to do with the currency without the heavy hand of the IMF and its single-minded mission (that of neo-liberalism) barking in your ear.

For those who are paranoid that the state may once again go back to its old wasteful fiscal days, being rid of the IMF would actually be the test. It would show if we did, in fact, learn, because if we haven’t learned how to manage our economy do we really deserve independence (as being under IMF programs is basically signing up to be a protectorate).

Right now whenever we complain and moan about our politicians, whenever we demand that they actually use the cash they have on the nation it is akin to the burning of effigies. Nothing has ever come from burning effigies (or for my Christian friends sacrificing to idols), for a real change I say again we must start with the removal of the IMF. We must be debating on alternative forms of international finance, we must be debating on serious land reform, a housing program and the nationalising of key industries. All of those can only be successfully tackled and debated in a realistic manner, but only if we are rid of this behemoth which currently dictates just how much can be spent (thus greatly limiting the number of programs which can be implemented or institutions refurbished).

The world today is not the world in the immediate aftermath of World War II, finance and means of getting funds are no longer solely bound by the Washington consensus of the IMF and World Bank. With the BRICS Bank now up and running and with the Chinese AIDB also underway one can see where, with creative policy, we could actually fix infrastructure and implement the long overdue social policies. There are ways in which we can get out of this mess without tightening our belts to the point of disfigurement, avenues we could force our politicians down, but we cant do that with the IMF calling the shots. If we really are to stand any chance of changing this country for the better then we must begin by calling for the exit of the IMF.

What type of democracy?

Democracy is a word which stirs up many feelings in everyone, it is a simple word with a complex yet surprisingly simple meaning. The crudest way to describe democracy is peoples power, that is the broad mass of the people have the ability to effect a change in their political, economic and social situation. In the Jamaican context democracy simply means going to the polls once or twice in a set period (Local government elections, general elections and the odd referendum) and then allowing our representatives to make our decisions for us.

Such a type of democracy, in my estimation, is not suitable for any country let alone Jamaica and it must come as no surprise that this type of democracy has led us to where we are now. Such a system allows persons who have vested interests, that is private as opposed to public interests, to come to the fore as national leaders and powerbrokers. More importantly, such a form of democracy is simply not democratic as the average citizen has no real input into how laws or policies are crafted and allows our leaders to act as an elected monarchy.

Does it come as any real surprise then that the voter turnout is slightly above or below fifty percent? Why would anyone wish to partake in a system constantly ignores their wishes and needs while shifting power firmly into the hands of those who can afford to fund a political party? This type of democracy does not work, and while a lot of people fear that the options are the liberal democracy or a dictatorship that is a false choice so far as I can see as one can go into variants of democratic rule (some better than others).

Direct democracy in my eyes is probably the best type of democracy that would both drag Jamaica from the brink of corruption, slack governance and the inevitable reactionary government which almost always follows corruption and poor governance. Direct democracy though it has its admitted flaws (legislation can get bogged down and reactionary laws passed as seen in Switzerland), it has many benefits which I feel far outweigh the negatives, namely the mass population would finally get some concrete political education.

Having some political knowledge is key in any form of rule (democracy, monarchy etc), it allows you to know the parameters of any given political discussion and also allows you to figure out what is achievable what, isn’t and what requires a completely new governance structure. In the context of a direct democracy, it becomes critical as it the population as a whole who will be making the final decisions at the end of the day, and the extent of their political knowledge will determine what type of policy is adopted.

People will be people, some will find ways do nasty things within the most rigid systems and utopian societies. The Swiss who no one can accuse of being ignorant of politics, culture etc voted via direct democracy to outlaw minarets and the call to prayer, this was later codified into law as the Swiss constitution demands. Now no system of government is perfect but again if one looks at the Swiss example that election opened up a huge debate in that nation which is still raging today, a debate regardless of which side you align with needed to be had.

Direct democracy in a Jamaican context need not copy and paste the Swiss model or any model for that matter, rather it can pick the aspects which best suit us and leave the rest alone. For example, the people as a whole in this nation need input in how the state spends our money (at both the local and parliamentary levels) and the only way we can do that is through direct democracy. This need not be a budget proposal going to referendum leaving the nation in the prospect of perpetual budgetary limbo, instead the persons who are on the voters roll will be called up at random to weigh in on the debate, giving voice to critical certain concerns of the average Jamaican which are generally lost in the wash, though the MP would have the final vote.

That hypothetical though entirely feasible option though messy carries immense social weight behind it and could be applied to other things such as education, health and even justice. Direct democracy also ensures that persons know that their voices do in fact matter politically and as such would reverse what has been an alarmingly rapid decline in voter turnout and political participation. Staying on the subject of the social aspect, direct democracy allows more social issues to be brought to the fore. Topics such as abortion, homosexuality, foreign land ownership and everything else under the sun could be properly debated upon. And following such a debate a decision one way or another can then be made rather than the current situation which sees social decisions left to men and women whose ideas don’t necessarily represent those of their constituents.

Direct democracy at the local level, however, may probably be the best place to start and it would also I believe have some immediate benefits. This at least would not see key areas of need (such as the budget and foreign relations) being bogged down in the necessary but costly lengthy debates needed for them. Rather it would have the citizen directly deal with their immediate circumstances. Issues such as rent, parochial roads, sewerage, garbage collection and education are all issues which could be debated upon by the public and then allowed to find and implement solutions to them.

Peoples involvement in politics is needed desperately in this nation, especially now as we have persons with real power and whose actions show they yearn to snatch away the little hard fought for power that the people currently have. Direct democracy I feel is the best way towards that, it is the best way to make the people see that they do have a voice in what goes on in the country and that they can make a change. Yes, it is messy, it does spew up some monstrous policies, but it is far better than shunting your future off to some random person for five years.

Low voter turnout – A real opening for third parties

Low voter turnout – A real opening for third parties

Jamaica is built on the Westminster system of governance with a first past the post model of elections, it is a system of governance which, in spite of its attractions has many flaws and drawbacks, the chief one being the fact that it seems to always end up with two parties monopolizing power while strangling third parties. This can be seen in our politics and its domination by the two ‘grand’ old parties, the PNP and JLP respectively which have made up our governments since ’44 while destroying anyone or thing that could even hint at subverting their party dominance. Both parties predate Jamaican independence (very important note), the PNP, in fact, is so old that it even predates universal adult suffrage in the island, these parties are so woven into the national fabric, synonymous with historic events in the country that it seems almost impossible to dislodge them, but I keep maintaining that the time is now more favourable to a third party than ever before.

It is true that in many ways, whether by deliberate design or by shortsightedness, the Westminster system is highly disadvantageous to third parties, evidence of this can be seen in almost every country which uses this model. However, it is my opinion that the door is wide open for any third-party which is strong, organised and coming with answers to the pressing questions facing the nation. The third party can become a viable option in the Westminster model, this is evidenced in Canada, Australia and even the UK. These nations are home to traditional parties who usually take the premiership, but they have third parties so strong that there have been times (in the very recent past in some cases) where these third-parties have formed the government either in coalition or in whole.

The UK, the home of this parliamentary model has a history saturated with third parties, the most famous of which is the Labour Party, which went from a minor irritant in the 1890s to the running of the government (albeit briefly) in the 1920s. In more recent times the UK has seen the resurgence of the Liberal party (ousted historically by Labour) which was in a coalition government with the Conservatives and the SNP (Scottish National Party) which has overthrown the Labour party in its traditional home of Scotland. These parties, though differing in policies and influence have one key thing in common, they all emerged as viable contenders by offering actual alternatives.

Canada is much the same, home to two traditional parties who ruled the roost (Conservative and Liberal) it has a thriving third party (as seen in the last general election) which was formed and continues to gain momentum (and lose momentum at times) and votes of the disillusioned elector who felt that the traditional two parties no longer represent them and their needs. The same pattern is seen in Australia and to some extent New Zealand, we see where third parties have come from seemingly nowhere to become real power brokers and have the ability to craft policy which the people require/request.

All of these cases though different in major cases all have one common point, the third parties which were successful and long in life (at the ballot box) managed to successfully exploit disillusioned voters. In the UK the Liberal party was re-born as the party of kind capitalism to successfully whittle away the voters who were disgusted with what was then seen to be a ‘radical’ Labour party and a Conservative party which was in constant turmoil. In Canada, the New Democratic Party has managed to retain a sizeable voter bloc by scooping up the left-leaning voters who have found no home in the two major parties.

These examples and points I feel should be looked at very closely not just by ones who create third parties but also the media houses which have long abandoned the idea that our two major parties are capable of salvation.

Ones who create third parties must realise that they are either in for the long haul or they shouldn’t play the game. Modern third parties which are of any merit all come from humble but deep roots. The Liberal party of the UK after being wiped out by Labour never lost itself as an entity. They simply moved from active politics (representative politics) to agitating and campaigning, keeping their name in the voters’ mind through active boots on the ground, pamphleting and visiting local councils. The New Democratic Party in Canada is even more interesting as it can trace its origins to both the Canadian labour movement (which has always been strong) and the provincial Labour-Farmer-Socialist parties (which actually held the provincial legislature at times).

With a voter turnout continually declining and with MPs getting majorities with a quarter of the eligible vote one sees where the door is wide open for any party which seeks to represent the people. These parties and persons who gravitate to them must understand and accept that they are playing a long game, and that benefits and electoral gains will not be immediate. They must understand that the elevation to political office may take decades but they must slog on regardless.

The openings are there and are many as the state has failed its people in so many ways. Communities are for example left to rot and forge their own paths as most local councillors seek to simply draw a cheque and reap the perks which come with local governance. Aspiring political parties could, for instance, provide the voice which the communities have been lacking. They could visit communities and provide them with a political education (grounding sessions), they could lend the communities assistance in creating functioning organisations which can interact with their local councillors and MPs and they can engage in school feeding programs. These groups can even engage in community building the Muslim Brotherhood model, which was most successful in cementing them as the most popular individual party, of school feeding, education, job sourcing and community beautification.

All of these avenues are open in this nation, a nation I repeat, where voter turnout is in the low 50s, where the major parties no longer have anything resembling a good reputation and where the state has literally abandoned certain citizens. All of this is fertile ground for any third party, but they must put in the work and play the long game.

With a people who are literally disgusted with politicians and anything remotely attached to politics, third parties must expect rebuffs and rebukes. They must expect to be greeted with scepticism and questions of how they will use them (the voters) and they must press on anyway. People will be cautious and sceptical of something new, only when the aspiring party has proved itself to the persons that matter, the people, that they are serious about their concerns. But when the acceptance comes electoral victory is in sight because you will have what the major parties seriously lack, and that is the trust and belief of the people. The possibility of third-party success is there, it is just for the patient and dedicated to grasp for it now.

The continued state of emergency. Is it another waste of time?

Crime in Jamaica, especially violent crime has reached a fever pitch. It has gotten so bad that the (slim and always fleeting) gains made after the Tivoli debacle, that is to say, the drastic reduction in murders, have been lost. We see this year on year, and it reached near its maddening heights last year by going over 1,300 murdered. Things have gotten so anarchic that the criminals are able to freely murder in midday, in a crowded street and walk off. As a result, the people are naturally terrified, and the government always looking forward to the next election have now found it wise to call a state of emergency.

Some citizens see this as a blessing, they say that killing these brutes and thugs is the only way to bring peace to this nation. It is an understandable reaction as people are scared and feel that they may very well be the next victim, but the implementing of this SOE, at this point in time and in that particular place (St James) seems to me like a massive waste of time, and that is putting it in oh so polite terms. Many questions need to be asked, and these questions I fear are not being asked because we all want to have a quick (and preferably sexy) end to this crime problem.

The first obvious question is why St James as opposed to Clarendon or Westmoreland? The official line is that St James recorded (and looked like it may break it again) the most murders in the nation last year (which is true), but so does Clarendon (which recorded 168 murders last year). The truth which we all know, and really are a bit ashamed to admit is, St James was chosen because the government could hardly let the golden goose (the tourist industry) feel the pain.

The second question is why just St James, why not extend the state of emergency? When I look at a map of Jamaica, I see porous borders in the parish of St James, I see parishes (St Ann, Hannover) which already have a high crime rate and who rely on the same crime. The logical thing in my point of view (if you have to go that route) would have been an SOE for Cornwall, that at the least would have cauterized the outflow of criminals (who I am very sure have buggered off a-la Tivoli and ZOSO). The criminals who have managed to flee the dragnet will go on and continue to scam and traffic drugs, they will continue to be a blight on the nation. This is so because persons have a vested interest in looking like they are taking a stance against the criminals and going no further, they aim to protect the tourist industry and the crime bosses.

We also have to ask what the follow through will be, are we going after the business communities, politicians and security officials who fund and protect these gangsters (who are after all pawns in the grand scheme of things)? Will those who have knowingly done business with criminals (the lawyers, money traders and jewellers) be held to account for their wrongdoings and crime by-proxy? The answer after a couple of months is no, it is simply a roundup of the usual suspects, the footsoldiers, runners and of course innocent people at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In other words, it is poor people who have been rounded up and pushed into lockups in such numbers that they have to be sending some to Kingston to ease the burden. The imposition of the state of emergency in St James has been a waste of time just as the ZOSO was a waste of time (though the ZOSO idea does have some merit if implemented properly) and the proof of this is borne out in both the ever-increasing murder rate and the extension of the state of emergency into North St Catherine.

Everyone knows that Jamaica’s problems took decades to reach this height, it did not happen overnight. Years of politicians funding and benefiting from gangs, years of businessmen funding and benefiting from gangs have placed us in this situation. Decades of the state abdicating its position as guarantor of security, failing to provide an environment for decent jobs and a reneging on the promise of education have led to criminals filling the void and extricating them will not be an easy or short feat.

Tackling crime will mean many things, some sexy and some boring but all aspects are important. It means having a fully trained social service so that the neediest are assisted instead of falling through the cracks. It means taking restorative justice seriously, training the people and providing the buildings from which they can work. It means locking up the scoundrels in high places who continually fund and benefit from crime. It means providing decent education, housing and prospects of a job. Those are the hard, boring bits which need to be done if we are to truly curtail crime, implementing a state of emergency, though sexy, is only useful insofar as it allows the state to provide the remedy unimpeded.

I fear that the state and the people are not ready for the hard work, they still dream of a quick fix and the yearning for Adams coupled with the partial state of emergency in St Catherine shows this. Until the hard work is done in tackling crime these grand actions will always be a painkiller trying to cure cancer. We will get there eventually, more and more people are coming to realize that harsh measures alone won’t cut the muster, the question as always remains how many more will have to die before we do the hard work?

Jamaica, marching to rebellion

Jamaica is in dire straits, with an economy that barely has a pulse, violent crime touching almost everyone, corruption rife and the people’s morale low, we can see where this island is looking into the eye of a hurricane. Things are made worse by the fact that we have two political parties which can ill afford to change a system which sees them directly benefit from the violent crime and the rampant corruption. Something has to give, something will give, but the question is what will take its place when the dust has settled?

Jamaica, whether we admit it or not has planted and lovingly grown a tree of anarchy, we are living in a state where rules don’t apply and those unfortunate fools who do follow the rules get buried. The people’s morale is at an all-time low and that now leaves them open and willing to accept any and everything (as seen with the JLP admin and its policies), they are desperate. They will be all the more desperate when the policies of this admin have their impact on them and then a nation that is both desperate and low on morale will be open to rebellion.

This is not wishy-washy talk, nor is this yearning for some ‘glorious and beautiful revolution’. The historical steps taken by this nation are in lock-step with others who have only wound up at revolution, the fact is that if things keep going as they are then it will happen. The odds are it probably will not be tomorrow, but the grass is dry and there are many sparks. As it relates to ‘glorious revolutions’ there is no such thing, one could fill many a tome with quotations stating things such as ‘a revolution is not a dinner-party’. They are violent, messy and pits man against man, however, it is necessary and it is where we are heading.

The evidence of us heading down this route are all around us and they have in fact intensified over the past few decades. Take for example the political and social elite of this country who are (and have been for some time) totally out of touch with the masses and their everyday realities. This is a group that has been living high on the hog for the past fifteen years while the average citizen has had to face what can only be called austere measures. This group which consists of bankers, manufacturers, large farm holders and politicians have all during the past decade and a half been getting fat at the trough while the unemployment rate in the nation gallops along. The lack of understanding is so lacking that the economy is seen to be doing well because of the opening of some BMW dealerships while the residents who live a stone’s throw away can ill afford the light bill. In a land where the most pressing issue at hand in the houses of the elite is if they will have issues going to the US on their Jamaican passports (as they are dual citizens) while the poverty rate creeps back to the 20% rate one can safely say that the seeds of rebellion have been planted.

Another harbinger of revolt is the total apathy of the people, and in Jamaica, we have a people who are bathed in apathy. This is a nation where murder no longer shakes us, it has to be dramatic, medieval for us to get talking about it. We are not surprised by corruption, it takes $200 million going astray for us to sit up. We are no longer shocked by police brutality, it now takes a pregnant woman being shot for us to talk about it. The apathy is a deadly harbinger because it shows a people with no hope, and if you have no hope its only a matter of time before you realise that you have nothing to lose and that something must change. A person in that situation who feels powerless and oppressed by a harsh system is always open to the idea of rebellion.

The spectre of rebellion is in the air, one only need look at the elections to see that the nation is in a deep state of unrest. The last two general elections have seen the PNP being elected in what could only be described as a rout on the promise of reform and then proceeded to lose in the most drastic way to the JLP who also campaigned on wholesale reform. Though the outcomes of those two elections were different (one with a supermajority and one with razor-thin lead), both were notable for their low voter turnout. The low voter turnout was made all the more interesting by the fact that in those elections some ‘die-hard’ seats, not garrisons, changed hands showing that even the dyed in the wool voters were switching allegiances. Such actions are always the sign of a restless and desperate people, and such people always rebel and revolt. If such anaemic turnouts coupled with the apathy of the people continue then that creates a situation ready for any charismatic strongman who claims that they can reform the system.

If one looks at the security forces one also sees where rebellion, again while not imminent, punctuates the air. The new NSC with Chief of Defense Staff and the proposed powers to be vested in the revamped JCF are alarm bells in a nation where a large portion of the people already feel that if the armed forces were in charge we would have some semblance of discipline. Things become even more touchy Officers (for altruistic reasons) are moved into the civil arena, they either become enamoured with the corruption and are just as bad, or become disgusted and act. This becomes a more dire situation when ex-army and policemen even in anger/jest float that possibility as an avenue out of the madness we currently find ourselves in.

The citizenry (outside of the regular voters) are also speaking in terms that are usually followed up by upheaval. Many are the individuals who have absolutely given up on the state and are going it alone, many are the individuals who, while not criminals, do react riotously to state intervention. They may be considered ‘vagabonds’, ‘squatters’ or ‘homesteaders’, whichever label you give them, these ‘poor unwashed masses’ are the perfect breeding ground for actions and activities that may very well rend the state apart. They can be seen in the small cliques and communities, some religious and some secular but these groups which have such a sceptical view of the state already should be worrying to those who fear for further instability in the land.

The clergy can also be seen as playing a crucial role in the ever-increasing rise of the rebellious fervour in the nation. The church has long been of the opinion that our leaders need to ‘come together and sing kumbayah’ so that we can right the wrongs of the nation, but in recent years we have moved past that stage as even the church is waking up to the fact that the system is inherently rotten. We hear them now no longer praying for our leaders to be divinely touched, rather they now call for full-fledged divine intervention. Divine intervention is no joke, it is a call of a desperate people who realise (or rather feel) that the prevailing system is so oppressive and strong that a mere mortal cant end the madness, only a God can stop the corruption. This is always a ringing bell for rebellion because it only then becomes a matter of time that a fanatic whips the people up into some zealous/righteous fervour a-la Iran, or the people flip the pages of the bible and see that God only helps those who help themselves. When a desperate people find knowledge such as that, that is when one knows that the barricades will be manned shortly.

Rebellions and revolutions are usually begun by some innocuous thing, an action which the heads don’t think will result in any massive sea change. Who would have thought that a man’s simple self-immolation would lead to the toppling (directly or indirectly) of four governments? Who would have thought that a relative few troublemakers on the streets of would lead to seven years of civil war? Desperate persons do desperate things and are more often than not spurred to action by a seemingly simple action. The state and powers that be have had ample time (two decades) to stem the ever-increasing tide of rebelliousness in the people and they have all failed. The people are cowed, scared and undereducated, some would say that that is a recipe for continued stagnation, but all people have a breaking point and it is clear to anyone who has eyes that our breaking point is fast being reached, what the aftermath will look like is anyone’s guess.

Jamaican public-sector wage negotiations… we’ll all feel it

Jamaican public-sector wage negotiations… we’ll all feel it

The past decade has seen the public sector workers going through the ringer as it relates to pay. With the rate of inflation always in the back of one’s mind, the workers have had to endure a severe wage freeze or a wage increase so minuscule that when adjusted for inflation it is more like a loss of wages. The nurses, police officers, teachers etc have for the most part been rather patient and tame during these negotiations, apart from a few spasms (such as the nurses’ action) no incident of any real note has taken place, they had, for the most part, accepted it as for that decade we had to all ‘ban belly’ to ensure the economy stabilized and saw growth.

However with the economy now no longer in freefall (though it still is in choppy waters) and with a government speaking of prosperity we see where the public sector workers are no longer buying the ‘ban belly’ line and that the ruling class has fully regrouped as it relates to bashing the Jamaican worker. Dangerous things are happening and the Jamaican worker must be wary, they must understand that everything that was won from ’38 through to the 80’s was fought for, never guaranteed and always liable to be withdrawn and what is happening with the public sector workers is only the thin edge of the wedge.

The public sector workers are being asked (again) to take a pay rise that, when adjusted for inflation really looks like a loss or at best now breaking even financially. However, things get even touchier, for as the government looks to take the axe to the size of the public sector, the unions (albeit a bit late) are refusing to go along willingly to the slaughterhouse. This impasse coupled with the notoriously poor bargaining skills of the governing party has led to the public sector workers threatening to and in some cases actually taking some form of industrial action, something that has really taken people by surprise as the economy teeters along.

There are, in my opinion, two key things to be taken from this whole round of negotiations and public-sector reform. They are 1. that for the most part, the unions in this Island have no camaraderie, no inter-union linkages and 2. that the Jamaican worker is entering a whole new sea that is fraught with choppy waters. To the first point, it is important to note the trite but very true saying united we stand divided we fall. Our local trade unions need to understand how they (the industrialists) play the game and how they play them off one another. If union X demands a pay increase of 9% and the govt states it can only afford 5%, then that remaining 4% gets taken from another sector. Divide and rule is a tactic as old as time, but it is made all the easier when the parties involved don’t care if the other lives or dies.

That may sound a bit harsh, but that is what it really boils down to at the end of the day. If say the JTA demands a financial payout bigger than what has been budgeted for, then the difference will naturally be made up by other sectors (especially since we are not borrowing like before), that is a matter of life and death. This is not me saying that the unions or their officials should not ask for, nay demand any improvements on what they currently get, for the most part, remuneration in the public sector is a joke. What I am saying is demand smart and demand in unison. They should be demanding things such as housing benefits, benefits for their children, lobbying for sector transportation, more educational allowances and things of these types. If they were to demand these things while at the same time accepting the current wage offer, or even a lower one, then they the workers would still be the winners as they would no longer have to use wage increases (even a small one) for necessities and could then use it for more leisure.

The lack of inter-union solidarity is bad, and changes in how they operate are urgently needed if the workers are to meet the challenges that await us, the challenges are varied and on the face of it many of them seem childish and quartered to one sector, but they will affect all workers in a myriad of ways. Some of these insidious changes have already been mooted in the past and are being re-hashed again for the upcoming slashing of jobs. Take for example the topic of performance-based pay, this topic has always been bandied about, mainly with the teachers who have for the most part not had any of it (and for good reason), that thought and topic has now moved into the arena of the police wage negotiations (as was mooted by the PSOJ).

Now in spite of what one thinks of the teachers (and trust me there are quite a few who should be nowhere near an educational institution), that type of pay scale will do nothing to help the cause of increasing the quality of graduate, and if anything see an even greater spike in graduates who just don’t cut the mustard. Thinking about it logically, if we were to implement such a policy tomorrow for the teachers nothing would change except no teachers would be paid and it is not because they all suck at their jobs (though a shocking number do), it would be because the underlying reasons for the undereducation still exists (a lack of funds, no help outside of school etc). The same would apply to the entire public service (the underlying factors would still remain) and for nearly all public servants, up to and including civil servants who only execute ideas dreamed up by ministers.

The statements coming out regarding the actions taken by the police and also coming from the PSOJ are also troubling. Again I would never say that the police do an excellent job, or that all of them are do-gooders (quite a few are corrupt and the good ones need to be shamed till they expose the corrupt ones), but for us to state after they take industrial action that they should be censored then we have a problem. It is one thing to say that a certain critical sector should be barred from industrial action, that is understandable, but to call for the firing of these individuals and the censoring of the doctors who signed them off is beyond overkill and borders something seen in Latin American dictatorships of old. Even scarier is when the PSOJ suggested that the police be paid out of confiscated proceeds of crime. Such a suggestion while initially seemingly brilliant becomes more stupid and borderline insane when really thought out.

A cursory glance to the US where many areas have implemented such a policy will see where the police have become nothing short of bandits. Persons being arrested on trumped-up charges and their property confiscated, especially out of towners, should be a worry to us. When one really thinks about it, the PSOJ is suggesting that the police, which is already notoriously corrupt, be allowed to seize and profit from peoples property and goods, that is endorsing theft and also pitting one sector (the police) against the others as the members of the force do desperately need the cash. When actually looked at and analysed this whole wage negotiation statement from the PSOJ smacks of a group that is more than content to partially feed one sector by starving off another.

The negotiations will be concluded most likely with the unions caving in, we have witnessed them caving for almost twenty years (accelerated in the last ten) and the union heads who coincidentally get fatter while rank and file members get thinner, will claim it as some success. The private sector may very well get its way and the way we deal with employment in this nation will no longer look the same. When the inevitable bleed over happens, when it is the private sector employees who will have to face the chopping block (and that time is coming) we can look back at these wage negotiations for what to expect and hopefully we will actually fight it in a united way this time.

Beware politicians bearing ‘change’

Beware politicians bearing ‘change’

Change is a word that is always on politician’s lips, change is something that most if not all politicians promise and it is so not just because politicians enjoy hearing themselves speak or are stuck in a loop, it is because most times a serious change is visibly needed for that political system. Politicians in Jamaica are not immune from this act and we have had our fair share of politicians who have claimed to be ‘agents of change’ or are here to bring in ‘a new style of politics’, we have had numerous politicians who have promised the moon and countless have insisted that they are here to change the system and yet for some reason we seem to be stuck even further in the mire.

While it is nice to hear a politician state boldly that he/she is going to shake up the system, in our case it has always been a case of ‘beware of politicians bearing change’ as the change in most instances locally almost always results in expensive stagnation or even retardation and regression. We live in a land where every election cycle is donned with political parties who criss-cross the island that they and they alone have ruled for sixty-six years insisting that they will change the damaging policies that they have wrought. This can be seen in elections and in governance, whether the politicians and party are new in forming the government or picking up where they left off, we hear constantly of change and yet things remain the same.

If we use the last three administrations we see where much talk of change was bandied about and yet, in the end, the nation and the people, for the most part, are worse off than a decade ago. Take for example the previous PNP government and the issue of ganja; here we had a party calling for a change, stating that the laws then were totally out of step with what was (is) the reality in Jamaica. However, the ‘change’ that they implemented was to simply decriminalise, in other words, the big change was to codify what the police were already doing and end it there. No ganja industry was/has been planned, the cost of licences such as R&D and other legitimate purposes are prohibitively expensive and as such the main players in the ganja industry remains the drug lord and his cultivator. This is a party that swept to power when we were on our knees economically and the citizens were asked to tighten their belts, the PNP while in office though burnt through money for ‘official’ things like an enlarged travelling entourage and new top of the line cars. There may have been a change in how the economy was run (they did somewhat right the ship), but there was no change in their attitude towards the people bearing austere measures as they flaunted luxuries in their faces.

The previous JLP administration (2007-2011) was ushered in on the back of change, it was (even with its slim majority) touted as the panacea to the PNP poison. Change varying from political reform, electoral reform, economic reform and a systematic separation of politics and crime were peddled to the people and they bought it. In the end, the changes that actually took place were that of the state violently opening up the garrison of Tivoli, something most thought they would never see (especially by a JLP administration). And even the gains from that tragic change have been flushed away by following administrations as the gangster now look to consolidate themselves in West Kingston and the all-important port. On the economic front, we were promised a change from the stagflation that marred the PNP era, a change from living on borrowed money and a change in how we ran our finances, the change we got was, in fact, being hard hit by the financial crisis despite us having due time to prepare and the workers continuing to bear the brunt of it.

This administration has been no different in promising the moon, in trying to sell the people anything to get and remain in office. The promises of this administration have been many and all across the board, in most instances borrowing from past administrations and in all cases failing to make a change for the better. The promise of a better economic future (near term) has been shown to be a lie, it is more of the same and has meant stagnation for the workers. Promises of a change in leadership style have only seen parties acting like it was the bad 90’s in reverse, now its the PNP who repulse and turn off people by their actions and words leaving the JLP to act like the sole cock amongst hens. We see a government that promised to do right by the workers now offering what can only be called a joke as it relates to a pay increase. We have a government that after promising that they would ‘change’ dishing out contracts pre-election like its nobody’s business.

These are but a few examples of Jamaican political parties promising change or to be agents of change and we all know that there are countless more examples. The question then becomes, if we the voters and citizens want to change politics and how it works and we know that most politicians who promise change really only mean a change of party in office, what do you do? What action can the voter and the average citizen take when he/she knows that continuing down the same path will lead to ruin and yet those who not only preach change but are entrusted to be ‘agents of change’, then go and do the same thing or worse?

Finding the answer to this conundrum is simple, the implementation, however, is hard. One must elect politicians who have a record of positive change, individuals who have no linkages to the corrupted system that is Jamaican politics (there are quite a few individuals who fit the bill such as our former Contractor General). Elect persons who will and have done the hard lifting in our society, individuals from NGO’s and various charities whom we all know would ensure that a positive change takes place in the land. But as I said that is easy, we all know that is the answer, the implementation, however, will show if we really want a change. The action means writing, calling and speaking to individuals who fit the bill and pester them into entering the political arena, as many don’t want to because it entails the metaphorical selling of one’s soul.  Action means joining or forming a party so that those individuals can get on a ticket, it also means voting so that the individual can win. To see a change we need to hold our politicians accountable, vote them out when they mess up or deviate from the script the people have given them, we must ensure that they are answerable to the people in all there dealings.

Persons who want political change in this nation are a dime a dozen, everyone knows that things cant continue as they are. Everyone is grasping to or looking for something to be hopeful for, some positive change on the horizon and the politicians know this. They have had sixty plus years to make a change in the nation and if anything we have gone backwards. This current batch of politicians in both parties and youth wings are not agents of positive change, they are more of the same, that is so because the system they have designed makes them powerful and influential and changing it even in the slightest would be a major hindrance to that. If change is to come it will come outside of the two parties if a change is to come then the people of this nation will have to wise up and wise up quickly. We must learn fast that politicians bearing change are like Greeks bearing gifts, always to be viewed with suspicion and scepticism,

Principled out

Principled out

Recently with Jamaica conferring honours upon the president of the nation that practices open and blatant racist policies such as the Dominican Republic and our ‘fence-sitting’ when it came to the recent U.N vote on Jerusalem persons have asked how is it that a nation that gave us so many giants can now act like such a yes man. How is it, they ask that the nation that was one of the first to spit in the face of Apartheid, to snub the US embargo on Cuba, that poo-pooed the IMF and embraced the third-world and partook in all its struggles can now become such a tool? What of pride, what or principle?

It is my theory that Jamaica is principled out, that we (our political masters and their sycophants) are weary and beaten and no longer have the stomach for principle. Principle and pride though similar are words that actually give off a totally different meaning and will lead one to do different things and that is something that we must understand I think when we look at recent Jamaican activities when it comes to global events. Principle is defined as ‘a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning’, while Pride is defined as ‘Consciousness of one’s own dignity’ and it is with these two definitions we can fully understand why the government and both parties have acted in the ways that they have.

We have had a long history of standing on principle, having a fundamental truth that we would not move from, a red line that we would not cross so to speak. In the 70’s for example, both the JLP and the PNP took principled political positions. The PNP (whether you liked it or not) took a principled left-wing position in a time and climate when such a position came with stiff costs, the JLP on the other hand (whether you liked it or not) took a principled centre-right stance again in a time and climate when such ideas came at a cost. These principles led to what was our mini civil-war, these principles have, in a major way led to the proliferation of guns and gangs and as such we, some forty-five years since these parties made these principled stances are still paying the bill. The bill, in this case, is the rampant crime/murder issue that we have whose genesis can be directly linked to the principled stance which both parties took.

Economically we were also footing the bill, and how. It is well known that whether by accident or design (I leave it up to you to decide) loans and grants from international agencies and governments come with strings attached, and for many a decade both parties took principled stances and had certain red lines. Seaga, for example, kept the bauxite levy (this after insisting that such a thing would be the beachhead for communism), and as such major investors have been wary to deal with Jamaica because on principle we wouldn’t go cheaply (note that even the free-zone workers who were paid a pittance were well paid by the standards of similar workers in other countries).

Times, however, have changed and we have ditched our principled stance for one of pure pride, thinking way too highly of ourselves if you will. Now we have a government and two parties that will do anything for the perceived ‘good life’, now we have a government that simply has no moral compass or overarching principle. How, for example, can one square the circle that is Jamaica conferring Honours on the president of the Dominican Republic? Simple, we need them financially, with Jamaica Producers (JP) having a major interest there, with Dominican Republic being a major money spinner for JMMB and with countless local business salivating at the Dominican Republic market it becomes painfully apparent that the cash has become more important than the principle, that pride has replaced the principle of racial solidarity.

The case with the U.N. vote is even sadder when one truly examines what has gone on. The vote to abstain (which is just as bad as a vote against the motion) is explained in many sectors with the logic that the U.S didn’t want us to vote for this, the U.S was ‘taking names’ as it were for its bad book and the U.S is going to economically hurt those who went with the motion. Another reason given is that the Palestinian issue is not our problem, not affecting us and therefore we shouldn’t bother getting involved as we have our own issues. That is pride, nothing more and nothing less than pure disgusting pride, and to hear and read Jamaicans saying things like that is stomach churning.

With that logic, where would South Africa be now, because using that logic no European nation, no Latin American nation and no North American nation would have called for the BDS that was a key nail in the coffin of the Apartheid machine? Lest we forget, Europe and N. America had little to gain and a lot to lose (especially economically) by supporting this BDS for black people in a continent no one really cared about. With that logic, we should stop this insisting on reparations for slavery, for why would Asia etc support such a move that would hamper relations with economic partners? Why should they care as it isn’t and wasn’t their problem?

The truth is, the last semi-principled thing Jamaican politicians did was extremely costly to the nation. For one reason (I don’t for a minute think it was the primary or even the fifth reason, but still a reason) why Golding was hesitant to give up Coke was on principle, and we felt it. With at least 70 dead, with a party that totally collapsed and imploded at the following elections, and with a party that is still viewed with suspicion it is easy to understand just why the government is tired of principles and wants to save pride, take the easy way out and survive.

Jamaica’s two parties are prideful and have no real principles regarding foreign policy and if they do have one it is that of whoring us and our vote out so we can eat the scraps leftovers from the imperial banquet. The third world has always had solidarity and love for Jamaica and we have always punched above our weight and this is just a further blow to the already battered reputation that Jamaica has. We avoided the UN vote in order to help (or at least not harm) our ailing economy and we confer honours upon racist presidents in order to secure our local companies, however, there is more to life than money and pride. When the history books are written we, in this case, will be on the wrong side and not for any principled reason, not because we believe Israel is the home of Jews or because the Dominican Republic is only white, but because we chose to put pride above all else.