Tag: Jamaican politics

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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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.

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,

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”: May I have your PIN?

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”: May I have your PIN?

The debate recently about NIDS (The National Identification and Registration Act, if I am to give it its proper name) is now done and dusted after doing the rounds in both parliament and the media, it has (naturally) been met with strong support for it along with an equal amount of dissent. The majority of supporters say that the bill is of the utmost necessity (even with the amendments exceeding that of the ZOSO bill) as the nation faces the dual threats of crime and corruption which are (and always have been) eating away at the nation. They also say that the law (even though they admit it is heavily flawed) is a must because the state has serious issues when it comes to identifying its citizenry because things like the driver’s license can be easily and cheaply falsified and obtained.

These vocal supporters chide the critics as being deliberately obstructionist, hoping that this new tool in the state arsenal fails, painted as plain old badmind or as being PNP sympathizers. However, an increasing (and very dangerous) grenade that is being thrown by the supporters of NIDS if ‘if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear’, a statement that 1. acknowledges the bills massive and blatant flaw, and 2. the statement shows just how ignorant most are of history, even recent history.

Now I openly acknowledge that we need a good ID system and one that is easily accessible (to the state and its various arms), but is everything in this law really necessary? Again, I can see the relevance of fingerprints, very necessary to capture someone’s identification. But when coupled with palmprints, foot and toeprints, retina and vein mapping and blood type along with the normal i.d. things (such as address etc), one is forced to ask ‘are we also waging a war against radical Islam?’. I am not a religious man but as a student of Jesuits, and as someone who reads a lot of religious literature, I personally struggle to see the Christian fundamentalists easily accepting this as it looks very ‘mark of the beastish’. I love but poo-poo a lot of sci-fi but does this not read like some sick John Wyndham/Issac Asimov novel?

I do not put my trust in sci-fi and religion, I do however put my trust in history, both distant and recent, as that is a very good way to gauge how something in the present will pan out and frankly, history is saying that this policy, however well intended will eventually fail. Fail in this instance does not mean that it does not meet its objective (assisting the state in identifying the citizens), instead, it means that it will eventually be abused by persons and actors with ugly motives. The Netherlands, for example, had in the early to mid-1900 ‘s an excellent (albeit a bit intrusive) ID and census system, inclusive of religion.

Now no one can say that the Dutch authorities (internally at least as the practices changed radically in the colonies) were a repressive and oppressive regime, it was a byword for liberalism, a stable constitutional monarchy and home of the Hague (whose name has graced so many important European liberal milestones) , so nothing to fear, no issue. But when the Axis invaded, that intrusive and well-recorded identification and census information was gobbled up and readily utilized in its final solution i.e. the Holocaust.  Now I do apologize for the WWII reference as I am sure most have grown weary of hearing them, but I and others keep bringing that war and its atrocities up because we as a species seem to constantly repeat and actually refine them.

The genocides in both Rwanda and Burundi were made childishly easy by an intrusive (by the standards of the day) census and id system, as is the genocide and ethnic cleansing that has been going on in Myanmar/Burma (most notably against the Rohingya) for the past fifty years. With a track record and trail bathed in blood, why exactly would we want, let alone rush into this type of scheme without a serious discussion about the pros and cons?

These types of systems (with all of its intrusive elements) if, placed in the wrong hands could most certainly be used as it relates to divvying up the spoils of political conquest. This type of legislation is laughable, for heaven’s sake, one won’t be able to access anything sate related without this identification and something like that just is asking for and breeds corruption and pork belly politics. That means no PATH, no access to KPH, no access to schools, no access (or rather use of) places like the RGD and Companies Office, that is a system begging to be abused by politicians and others who know nothing but practising corruption.

Imagine for a minute if you will the dystopia that we would be living in if the creators of what are today’s monster garrisons had access to such an awesome (potential) power such as this that is found in this system? Hell, how would our current MP’s use this power when they already know and use the ‘unknowable’ such as the names of the persons who voted in their constituency during elections? Do we, as a nation really believe that the parties which gave us Tivoli and Arnett Gardens, the ones that gave us Trafigura and consistently run drugs and guns, have at the snap of a finger, or by the sprinkling of some magic dust become trustworthy and able to use this, such an awesome power?

As for persons who say’if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear’ may I say; I am more trustworthy than the state apparatus and either party, I have no record of corruption. May I, therefore, have your ATM PIN (again I have more credibility than the state) and demand all personal information of both you and your employees (if you are a business owner)? After all, if you have nothing to hide you should, therefore, have nothing to fear. If one really has nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear then, by all means, please be the first to have the JCF arbitrarily kick open your door (without a warrant) and then proceed to search both you and your belongings.

I don’t expect many (or any) to take up my suggestion of giving me the data, some because they may think me mad, some because they may think me an undercover criminal and some still because what I ask is just plain intrusive, overbearing and overdemanding. Some will refuse because what they have is either embarrassing or personal and that is the kicker, some things we keep to ourselves because it is personal. One expects a degree of privacy, even while acknowledging and allowing for the necessary intrusions on life, therefore if we as a nation insist on styling ourselves as a liberal democracy we must hold the cornerstone of that institution, The Magna Carta, to be true. If we are going to continue to style ourselves as a liberal democracy then we must look at the uproar that took place in the UK and Australia and the court ruling in India when they tried to implement such legislation.

With European nations and the U.S. who are  fighting any and everyone at the moment still debating about the intrusiveness of such laws (just look at the U.S. and  how they are tearing themselves apart over data retention and grabbing), we wish to rush headlong into this thing, we aim to implement it without even a proper debate. It should not be lost on anyone that the PNP (who loved it while they were in office) have done and continue to do little to challenge this law (apart from walking out of parliament) while JLP (who have always openly wanted such a sweeping law) have rammed this through, this is so because they love nothing more than control and power, and this law has the potential of cementing both.

Politics makes strange bedfellows and this matter is no different, it is telling that groups with such differing views and agendas such as JFJ, JFLAG and JCFHS all agree (though for differing reasons) that this law as is is bad. We need a proper and wholesale ID, I agree, but not like this. It is costly and intrusive, whats-more we all know it will do squat in relation to crime (as the killings in Mt Salem, the chronic undereducation and the recent gun find show). If we honestly intended to do a proper ID we could have done it without all of the unnecessary trappings, cost and fear by melding together existing things.  The TRN, NIS, birth certificate, driver license, electoral ID etc, these individually do what the NID will do, they capture already what would be in the future NIDS database, and without the intrusion. To do such a thing would have needed amendments to many laws, and probably a constitutional change or two, however as no party has the required majority to do this it won’t be done as that would mean dialogue, compromise and most of all a love for nation above party or self and the ramming through (and the walkout) show this.

Andrew Holness, the consummate politician

Andrew Holness, the consummate politician

Andrew Holness one has to admit it is a damn good politician. That I can say that would, of course, stun those who know me, but one has to pay the devil his due, and Andrew Holness in spite of what I and others may think of him has shown himself to be a first-rate politician. People see him as pompous, as a man in love with himself or as a man who is so power hungry that he will stab anyone in the back, but that couldn’t be further from what I see.

I see a man who was handed the mantle of power in a most precarious time (and that is putting it in such airy words it is not funny) for both his part and his nation and was tasked with ensuring it didn’t sink. Now when faced with the options of either 1. maintaining power and then dealing (in the short time) with the economic issue that had to be addressed and then lose your (personal) shine, or 2. call an early election, tell the nation of the inevitable suffering that will be done by whoever wins and lose (shunting the unpopular reform burden onto the PNP). He chose the bold move, lost the general election (as expected) and then faced what seemed to be a long political exile.

With knives out for him and his position he walked a tightrope and manoeuvred some tight corners, he was roundly embarrassed and scandalized by the resignation letters scandal but even that scenario showed a man who in political terms anyway is always trying to be a step ahead of his opponents, for by demanding that type of action demonstrates that 1. you and you alone run that show, and 2. total fealty is a must and anyone who runs afoul of you will suffer the consequences (ala Arthur Williams or Dr Tuffton). Then when Mr Shaw challenged for the JLP leadership it was thought by many that Andrew was done. Instead, he won that internal battle, and he won convincingly silencing Audley Shaw and his acolytes for now.

That, however, pales in comparison to what must surely be called one of the most unexpected electoral results in any nation recently. The election of 2016 was amazing, this was a man who managed to reduce the PNP to a mere shell, an embarrassment of its former self. This was a campaign that saw the then governing party (PNP) that not only righted the economy, brought actual investment and liberalized the ganja policy getting trounced (and yes the PNP bears some blame for the defeat but that doesn’t take away from Andrews shine) in such  manner that they still haven’t found their bearings after almost two years.

He has shown himself to be an excellent campaigner, he has a campaign machine that is always in action and humming, a machine that I am sure one PJ Patterson would even begrudgingly admit is in tip-top shape. This can be seen in the way that the party trumpets any and all achievements (even ones that are not even half met), how often, for example, has one seen an advert in the paper with the JLP banner talking up their policy achievements, how often has one gone online and been bombarded with the ‘prosperity gospel’ of the JLP?  He has simply revolutionised the way campaigns are done in Jamaica with the way his party used technology and social media in the last campaign, and this by-election shows that. A surprisingly (if you have awakened from a slumber that began in the early 2000’s) large amount of this key by-election (SE St Mary) fight is being done online. Canvassing groups, discussion groups, groups that look to get the party talking points in order are all to be found online as well as the lengthy and (sometimes) witty statements that emanate from the campaign trail, all of this is as a direct result of the way in which Andrew Holness and his JLP team went about campaigning during the general and local government elections.

The composition of his cabinet also showed a man who has come far in terms of political growth. Take the positions of Bobby and Chris at MoH and National Security, now to some these ‘high profile’ positions show how much faith and trust he has in these people, and that may be so, but those appointments coupled with his (Andrew) statements on nonperformers and the positions (or lack thereof) they took during the internal election, one can also see these placements as nothing short of punishment. For realistically, who in their right mind would want the National Security portfolio, one that is almost always bound to leave your political reputation in tatters? Which sane person would want to manage our health ministry with its anaemic budget and its dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure? This is a man who clearly while not discarding of his political opponents (as they all have their uses) is going to punish them and ensure that any route to his throne is fraught with obstacles.

The policies he has implemented or carried on with since taking office have also been rather impressive. I know I’m not the first, and I surely won’t be the last to make a comment on it, but the way that he has stolen some critical (really the only ones they spoke of anymore) left-wing policy pieces from the PNP (such as the free health care and education) coupled with his thrust at the housing question has left the opposition reeling and unsure of just how to tackle this administration when it comes to ideology (though the PNP seem to be re-aligning and regaining their socialist core). That march has been impressive to watch and watching how he handles the captains of industry within his party will be key, it will be an interesting balancing act and a most impressive feat if he can pull it off.

One doesn’t have to like Andrew Holness personally, or even his political policies, lord knows I don’t (policy-wise that is). But for me to say that I am not impressed by how he has operated in the past few years would be a barefaced lie, by all accounts he should be dead and buried, instead he is sitting pretty as PM and is looking to extend his parliamentary majority. I don’t like his policies, but he has some while the opposition dithers, I don’t like the roadmap to the national vision, but at least after nearly three decades of going around in ever decreasing circles at least, we have a roadmap. He may not be my cup of tea or even the majorities cup of tea, but he is no fool, he is very adept and is a survivor, love him or loathe him he is the most complete politician in the island at the moment, time will tell if the PNP can dislodge what is fast looking like a titan in a field of shrinking violets (see Peter Bunting et al in the PNP front-running).

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.