Tag: infrastructure

Regional integration could mean moving to Guyana and Suriname

Regional integration could mean moving to Guyana and Suriname

CARICOM, as is, is dead. It is going nowhere fast, what with all the dick-swinging, animosity, regional tension, economic tension and social tensions, CARICOM as is, is dead as it relates to harmonising and developing relationships throughout the region. The sad reality is that in spite of our common history and shared culture the distance is too great to overcome along with the population and economic disparities.

Trinidad & Tobago along with Barbados (despite the latter’s recent malaise) are streets ahead of every other nation in this bloc in terms of economics, and they flex their muscles much to the chagrin of the other nations in the regional bloc. Jamaica and Trinidad dominate in terms of population size (and therefore have a large labour pool) and we see where their nationals make up a large portion of the workforce in the other nations in the grouping, pressuring wages of the locals downwards (in some cases) while alienating/forcing out of work quite a few of the local populace.

The CSME (Caribbean Single Market & Economy) is non-existent, the ‘freedom of movement’ that CARICOM was supposed to have afforded us is nowhere to be found and ideas of political/legal integration seem to have been strangled in its crib if the CCJ is anything to go by. CARICOM it must be said again as is is dead in the water unless something drastic and earth-shaking takes place, and that event may very well have taken place (or is slowly taking place).

Global warming and the tectonic movements in my mind are going to be the driving force behind the region finally integrating, climate change may very well be the thing that saves this bloc. As seen with the recent hurricanes this season along with the precarious fault line that is between Jamaica and Haiti, the nations of this bloc could literally at any moment face a crisis that would bankrupt any one of the individual nations that make up CARICOM. Rivers and streams are drying up and islands that are used to importing water are now paying through the nose for the same commodity as a result, it cant continue, something must change.

The time for doing nothing has ended, that door slammed shut the minute Dominica got battered by the third category 4 hurricane of what has been a hellish nightmare that is this years hurricane season. Frankly, the door started closing during the five minutes of hell that Haiti endured (the 2010 earthquake). Simply put, stagnation at this point in time is akin to willfully signing our death warrants, the only way out of this mess is with true unification and integration.

CARICOM as a bloc has a population of just under eighteen million persons, almost all of them living on islands, except two. Guyana and Belize are on the continent and are (wait for it) actually underpopulated. If we as a regional bloc were serious about not only political integration but most importantly our peoples survival, then we would look into setting up a plan to get off the islands and move to the continent, the mainland which happens to be CARICOM members as well as being underpopulated and underdeveloped (like all of CARICOM in that regard).

Now, as I have pointed out, these nations are actually pretty underpopulated. Guyana with a land mass of 83,000 sq mi (making it number 83 in terms of country size) has a population of 773,303 as of 2016 (making it number 165 for population size) and therefore one of the least dense places on earth (ranked at number 8). Suriname is a bit smaller but still again a massive nation with a land mass of 63,252 sq mi (ranked at number 90) and with a population just above half a million. These are nations roughly the size of Great Britan (in the case of Guyana) and Greece (in the case of Suriname) and with a fraction of their population, in other words, there is ample room for population expansion. As it relates to the environment (which should be at the forefront of our minds if we even begin to plan this out), I believe that we (at least in this region anyway) have learnt our lessons and would look to do as little damage as possible to the magnificent beauties that make up Guyana-Suriname hinterland, forests and waterways, we wont be doing concrete jungles anymore I believe.

I am not pretending that this is either a roadmap or a policy piece on how to achieve this, that is for persons in a much bigger pay bracket than I can imagine. But it is something that we must at the very least be thinking about and hopefully, this will spark some stimulating conversation on the topic along with concrete actions. The way has already been somewhat paved by the  Guna people of Panama, these people live on the Caribbean side of Panama and as such are seeing their land slowly swallowed up by the ocean as the climate becomes more hostile. As a solution, they are all (within a specified timeline) moving to the mainland of Panama, showing that a solution is out there.

This type of regional cooperation and integration I admit is at this moment very much a pipe dream and honestly seems laughably impossible, however, the alternatives are also just as, if not more so, impossible. Option one is, hope, pray and cajole the nations of the world to meet and surpass (because the current targets will mean the regions extinction) the goals set at the Paris climate talks (a tall order especially with the US pulling out). Option two is, we as individual nations try and make the best of it, build dykes as tall as skyscrapers to keep the water out (see King Canute) and then die (not very pleasant what with these hurricanes, heat etc). Option three is, we all vacate the region and go to the former colonial masters, something that just sounds mad when one looks at current events (see Trump and all of Europe). None of these options are likely or realistic, the truth is we in the region have been left to fend for ourselves, to act as the test case in how well/long humans will live in the front lines in the era of global warming, at this point it is really either swim together or die a slow death for the nations of this region because we are not going to get any outside help.

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It’s high time we audited Jamaica’s debt

It’s high time we audited Jamaica’s debt

Jamaica has a high level of debt, pardon me for stating the blatantly obvious, but just to hammer home that point let me state that Jamaica’s debt to GDP ratio is at the rate of %115, in other words, each Jamaican citizen owes an individual total of roughly $800,000 (JMD). This level of indebtedness has had a massive toll on the nation, be it the fact that we have to take on stringent IMF regulations in order to get by, the fact that borrowing on the international stage is now rather taxing, but the most damning thing about all of our debt is that we really have nothing to show for it.

The billions in debt that the state (and as such we individuals) have to repay and honour is in need of auditing. The fact of the matter is that (and I’m only speaking of the 80’s onwards) for all of the billions we owe the nation (to use a technical term) looks like a piece of crap. Monies that was borrowed for bridge building in Parish X disappears and the bridge is not there, money borrowed for road repairs vanishes and the roads are left to further cave in. Money that we cant afford to pay back is borrowed to upgrade jail cells to move them out of the mid 19th Century is not accounted for and the jails remain like dungeons.

A majority of the money owed was borrowed because the state wished to ‘improve the lives of its citizens’, and yet here we are, 37 years after the economy was returned to pure capitalism and a willing credit market (the little democratic-socialist initiatives initiated by Manley were almost all killed off by the successive administrations) with nothing to show for it except an ungodly level of debt, nothing relating to infrastructure, and a sick joke when it comes to social services. Along with politicians and certain well-connected individuals getting rich coincidentally of course.

The people have not benefited, we as a society have received no gains from this borrowed money and instead, are left to foot the bill, that is utter madness (to put it politely) and should not be allowed to pass unchallenged. We should demand a forensic audit of this debt (or as much of it that can be audited) so we can find out just where the money went and most importantly, who has/had it. Now I’m not of the opinion that the guilty parties once found out would (or even could) pay back the money, but it would be a massive start, it would show that theft from the state is no longer something to turn a blind eye to and it would also send a strong message to those who wish to dip into the public purse for their own benefits.

Were in over our heads when it comes to this debt, full repayment is simply not an option if we wish to live in a nation resembling anything near half decent, it is a massive handicap. The audit of our borrowed money (who got it, what was it used for and the terms of the loan) would be a most important step in either wiping away our debt (something we should be heavily lobbying for) or at the very least in getting a haircut on the debt, that is only possible with an audit. I say again the people have not benefited from this borrowed money, and unless and until a full forensic audit is done on our debt, quite frankly we shouldn’t (as citizens) pay our taxes (which only go to debt service) and demand that a closer look at our debt is carried out.

P.S. I’d like to thank Mr Lloyd D’Aguilar for providing the seed for this bit of commentary, if it weren’t for his posts on twitter I’m not sure that this process would have crossed my mind.

Recycling is easier than you think

Jamaica has much natural beauty, stunning views, amazing beaches and rainforests coupled with rivers that can make one’s heart stop with the breathtaking majesty, however, we have one massive blight accompanying this beauty, garbage. Everywhere one looks one sees garbage, be it the beach littered with plastic bottles, the river choked with plastic bags or even the streets where condom wrappers (and used condoms) bag juice bags and boxes rule the roost, we see where Jamaica has a garbage (or more specifically a recycling) problem.

Many excuses are given for why the waste is both scattered about the place and left to pile up. A lack of skips, a lack of bins, a lack of dustmen, poor education as it relates to personal waste management, all are given as excuses for our garbage problems and all are in fact valid statements, however much more could be done as it relates to making the place less filthy.

One excuse we are always greeted with is that plastic (especially bottles and bags) are almost impossible to recycle here and that they just end up in landfills or the waterways clogging things up. That is inexcusable and quite frankly a cop-out as so many things could be done to mitigate this situation. The plastic that we all ignore could be used for so many things and be used in ingenious ways that could also (wait for it) provide jobs in a niche market while also beautifying the nation. I am of course speaking of making art and furniture out of the disposed of plastic.

We could begin by making benches and other seating items. Imagine for example, the bus stop instead of having a rundown shed with the few ‘seats’ that would make your skin crawl instead becoming a new waiting area (the shed would be made of reused plastic) and comfortable plentiful seats so that one could wait for a bus in comfort? Imagine a park with children playing on a see-saw or a swing or even jungle gym all made out of the plastic items that would instead have become garbage clogging the drains? If one looks at the types of art that can be or is already being made with this type of waste material, the stunning quality and beauty, the intricacy that can be done with this garbage, then right there one would see a grand opportunity for our Jamaican artists to actually get their teeth further into a modern medium while at the same time assisting in beautifying the nation. and one Imagine, shoes, slippers, rain slicks and even bags made in Jamaica and all coming from the items that as we speak are causing so much havoc on the nation? A niche market could be created and cemented giving jobs to this nation, and it could come from the garbage.

With garbage and plastic, in particular, choking the nation something needs to be done. Education yes, people will only learn the right things if taught it, putting in skips and bins is a must, people can’t dispose of waste properly if there are no receptacles. However, that will not address the issue of the plastic we currently have and the plastic that we will have in the future that we all agree cant be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. We are choking on garbage as we speak, even if we manage to scrape up all the plastic in the island more will always wash ashore from the floating garbage piles that occupy the oceans. Instead of whining, instead of doing half measures and instead of ignoring the problem (something we are excellent at) let us address it head-on. This is an easy, cost-effective and quite frankly fun way to reduce the garbage in the nation and is one that ties in well with the proposals that the talking heads have made, let us see now if anything changes.

If you’re going to sell yourself, at least be expensive

If you’re going to sell yourself, at least be expensive

Jamaica has been selling off bits and pieces for ages, be it bauxite rights, our port (leased out) or even the sugar belt and Goat Island which has been granted to the Chinese, we see where Jamaica has been slowly at first, but rather quickly recently, giving away key areas and industries of the nation. Now, this has naturally brought out the nationalistic tendencies in us human beings that inhabit this island, we have been demanding that the government reverse these policies and staunchly go it alone, or at the very most engage in trade with others while retaining sovereignty of our key industries (electricity, bauxite etc). Now I am staunchly in this camp, I feel that alone (really as a unified Caribbean basin) we can have a real go at making something of ourselves as a nation and region.

That, however, for the time being, is a pipe dream. The powers that be are intent on selling off any area and aspect of the nation that can turn a quick few $US million. Now I don’t agree with this line of thinking, but if our leaders are indeed going down the road of selling off everything lock-stock and barrel then by god let us ensure that they get quite a few $US Billion while also ensuring that the people (that would be us the citizens of the neo-colony) get some benefits.

Take for example the on again off again sale of Goat Island and the aborted deal for the port (both Chinese deals), it is obvious that the Chinese are looking for a firm foothold in the region, more specifically the areas in the region closest to the major shipping lanes (from the Panama Canal to the Port of Miami and further up the eastern US seaboard), that is why they have pumped so much money into the Cuban refitting of the Port of Mariel. Now the Chinese are not silly, they know that absolutely no cargo ships are allowed to dock in the US after directly docking at Cuba, they need a mid-point therefore. This is where Jamaica and us being a potential expensive hoe come into play. If they want the port and the Island and the Government is intent on selling it, then sell it, but go big. Sell them both for XBillion US$ and demand concessions and access to the port, sell them and insist that they fund and train our merchant marine fleet (which they will need for their ships coming in) so that we can have some lasting benefits as it relates to the individual Jamaican.

 

 

 

The mining rights is also a case of the same thing. China is the hub of global industry and manufacturing and is also fast ascending as it relates to R&D, therefore it is natural that they want to (and they are) monopolize the minerals of the world. Again we see where the differing administrations are intent on selling it to the Chinese, in line with the old school sell-offs where we end up carrying the bag. It doesn’t have to be this way, Let us sell it to them, but let us make them pay dearly. Insist that when we sell the bauxite rights (again for a cool X Billion $US), demand in the deal that the roads and rail networks are upgraded. This again is something  that would benefit both parties, the Chinese would need good, reliable transportation networks to transport the minerals (or processed aluminum) to the docks so that they can be loaded into the awaiting ships, we the Jamaican citizen would also benefit greatly as we would then have cash on hand along with a brand new road and rail network we didn’t have to build.

Now I am not saying that the Chinese are looking to or are going to become our new colonial overlords, I have never been in that camp and the facts (though they point to exploitation and no-strings-attached loans/grants) do not point in that direction, they do however wish to gain a permanent foothold in the region as they aim to cement their status as the next global behemoth. If we are going to sell our souls, sell off our natural gifts and key industries, then lets at least have something to show for it, let it not be a case of us selling off everything we have only to realize that we own nothing, have access to nothing and are left scrounging for the ‘what lef’ in ways that would make our current reality look like a fun game.

Why Jamaica in historical terms is actually not doing badly.

Why Jamaica in historical terms is actually not doing badly.

This may come as a surprise to those (few) persons who read what I post, but Jamaica actually isn’t doing badly. Now before you start thinking that I have been smoking too many spliffs and am somewhere in Lala land you have to understand just what I mean when I say that Jamaica is really not in that bad a position. When I say that I mean from a historical perspective, in terms of the life of a nation, from the birth of it to the fall of it, Jamaica is looking not too shabby for a nation of fifty-five years.

Let us look at it piece by piece and with analogies and comparisons. Jamaica in its seventy-seven years of self-rule and fifty-five years of self-governance has had always had a (relatively speaking) peaceful transfer of power, even the much talked about, highly contested and bloody election of 1980 ended with Michael Manley handing power over to Edward Seaga without calling out the tanks. Note that even the less talked about (but no less hard fought) election of 1976, with the state of emergency, ended with Edward Seaga sitting as an MP and leader of the opposition till his aforementioned victory in ’80. Now compare that to other newly independent nations, but just to ‘handicap’ myself, compare that to other newly independent former British colonies. Guyana (which was deprived of independence because of British and American fears of Soviet influence with the Premier Cheddi Jagan and his wife) remained under the brutal one-party rule of Forbes Burnham (which incidentally murdered the great Dr Walter Rodney) for some twenty years. Grenada was run by the madman Eric Gairy after independence in 1974 to the point that a revolution took place to oust him a mere five years later and installed the New JEWEL Movement led by the left-wing Maurice Bishop, who was in turn murdered (and whose murder led to a joint US Caribbean invasion). Leaving CARICOM one sees the same thing, Zimbabwe in Africa has brutal crackdowns and a virtual one party-state, while in Asia we have Pakistan which lurches from military dictator to military dictator and even Fiji in the South Pacific has tasted the bitter fruit of election results being literally fought over and the military installing itself in executive power.Millitary Coup

Looking at it from an economic stance Jamaica, while not performing in a stellar fashion, in historical terms and for the age of the nation we are not in a bad position. Yes, the Jamaican economy isn’t much to look at, but take a look right next door to Haiti and you will see what economic ruin truly looks like, the picture below shows statistics up to 2007.

haiti_economic_stats_2007

Now, these stats are initially sourced from the UN, note the glaring absence of any statistics for anything relating to employment rates and economic activity. That is not saying that no economic activity takes place or that they are all unemployed, far from it, in fact, many Haitians hold jobs (many more than one) and run businesses, the problem is that most of the jobs are low paying (to put it politely) and most businesses are in the informal sector and therefore either struggling to get by or just not giving anything meaningful to the economy (see the black market). Again I go back to poor Zimbabwe, their economy has fallen off a cliff since 2000 and a nation that once was the ‘breadbasket’ of the region coupled with a robust labour force has an economy so in tatters that they not only had the highest inflation rates at one point in time, they abandoned their currency altogether and now use FX to grease the wheels of the broken-down economy. Yes Jamaica got FINSAC’ed, yes we haven’t had any meaningful growth for some twenty odd years and yes we have a worrying rate of unemployment, but as mentioned above things could be so much worse.

We have in our nation an issue of safe seats, or to give them their correct name, garrison seats where we know during each election cycle that if an old, shabby broom was put up as the candidate of the ‘influential’ party that it would win by a landslide and then some. But even here, when it comes to incumbents holding onto seats we are not doing all that badly. Take everyone’s favourite (until Trump at least) country America, in 2010 during the midterm elections Congress (both houses) had a 15% approval rating, and yet still the House saw a rate of incumbency return of 90% while the Senate saw an incumbency return of 91%. Now say what you will about the (few) persons who do vote in our local elections but we have a rate of return nowhere near that (partially because we tend to chop and change back benchers) but also because we have a tendency to throw out (the non-influential) those who they feel don’t represent them, as the PNP found out as Mr Arlando lost to Mr Arlando (confusing I know).

US incumbents percent

Another serious issue with Jamaica is political corruption, pork belly politics and corruption in general in all ways shapes and forms. I mince no words when I say that corruption (along with crime and poverty) is a serious millstone around our neck and that if we hope to better our nation then we have to rid ourselves of corruption.  However, for a nation that again has only been policing itself for 55 years, we have some good (albeit currently toothless) anti-corruption agencies and civic groups (which aren’t toothless) which look to stem the tide of corruption in politics. Again using a historical example (again the US), we have what is probably the most blatant example of political patronage (read corruption) in Tammany Hall founded in 1789 and only dissolved a mere fifty years ago (which was historically corrupt from its inception) and its infamous (and notoriously corrupt) head William M. Tweed. Tammany Hall was The Democratic Party political machine in New York, and it ensured that the Democratic Party had both Ney York City and New York State under lock and key through both bribery along with voter intimidation and patronage. Things got so bad that in a nation that was littered with political machines operating in this nature, Tammany Hall came to epitomise and eclipse all of them in the scale and openness of its corruption.

Political corruption was (and still remains actually) such a problem in the US that even the ‘great’ JFK wasn’t immune from scandal. During his election against Nixon his camp was accused (and the evidence does deserve some looking at) of vote buying and rigging that the US$20 was jokingly nicknamed after JFK. Now Jamaica does have a big corruption problem, however, it is my view that it not as entrenched as we make it out to be, it is that we simply watch it and say nothing so the little that is grafted and gifted (a case of Guinness ain’t all that expensive)  adds up.

All in all what I’m trying to say is that Jamaica, while it has its serious issues (mainly the murder rate which is mind-boggling), has potential and isn’t in the bad place that we like to believe we are as we are still a young nation with time on our side (unless the sea levels begin to rise), and as pointed out above things could be a lot worse. Put another way there is two types of shit in the world, horseshit and dogshit, both are waste materials but one simply can’t be used while the other can be used to fertilize a garden (it has potential). In a frank and crass manner, yes we are shit, a bad economy and a society that is scared, but we are horseshit, it is up to us now as to whether we use or potential or we allow it to remain wasted.