Tag: Jamaican politics

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.

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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.

The JLP’s to lose now

The JLP’s to lose now

Political soldiers are on the move, all over St Mary one will be greeted with bunting, placards, billboards and of course, flags representing the opposing parties and their respective candidates, its by-election time in South East St. Mary. But this was to be expected, with the slim margins of victory coupled with the unfortunate and unexpected passing of Dr Green (and the sticky issue that was the election petition) the campaign never really ended in this part of Jamaica, and I believe that will be to the JLP’s great benefit.

Anywhere one goes in that part of the world, from Castleton all the way to the border of Portland as I said earlier, one will see campaign paraphernalia all over the place. But just a look at them will tell you which party is ‘rolling in it’ and which party ‘cant afford a pot to piss in’. Placards bearing the image of the PNP candidate (Dr Shane Alexis) are there and in numbers too, probably outnumbering those of his opponent (Dr Norman Dunn), however (and I may be reading a lot into this but not too much) they are not of the same quality and make of Dr Dunn’s placards. A small thing, but this is just one indicator of a party flush with cash (and using it strategically) and one that is running on fumes as it relates to finances.

SE ST MARY

Dr Alexis, it is true has been trodding earth, going to many communities and reaching out to many persons, and it is true that he has brought a vim back to the PNP cadre in that constituency who have been afflicted by the broader party malaise, but that is no surprise. The simple fact is that he has to go door to door and drum up support and name recognition because he is a totally unknown quantity in the regional party and politics in general, as a result he has to ingratiate himself with the constituents, a long and arduous process as he will also if he has sense be looking for the ‘swing’ voter. The fact again is that Dr Shane Alexis has his work cut out for him if only for that one fact, though I do believe that he does stand a fighters chance and could very well be the MP after the next general election, he faces a likely (not certain but likely) defeat this time around.

Dr Dunn has no such worries as it relates to name recognition and has no nagging questions about what his message is (he is a known quantity). Having run, and only just lost in the last general election (with such a narrow margin that a petition was working its way through the courts) and being born in the region, people know him. Couple those with the facts that both the JLP (with its very good marketing) and most importantly he himself has never left campaign mode (by all accounts he has been operating as if an election could have been called their ever since he lost). They have the ground covered, they have the people canvassed, they know the local issues already, they understand the local mentality as it relates to politics. The JLP is in a nutshell well oiled and prepared for this election and personally, it would be bordering on an upset (I’m sure Belmont Road would be fuming) if the JLP lost.

I don’t feel this is a referendum on the Andrew Holness administration, in spite of what Dr Phillips of the PNP would want us to believe. This is, however, a serious test for the PNP and could be the beginning of an Indian Summer for the JLP. If the PNP lose and give the JLP, even more, breathing space (they already act at times like its a parliament of 53-10rather than one of 32-31) then Andrew Holness would have a green light to either destroy them with policy measures that ‘no well thinking Jamaican could oppose’ such as ZOSO, or if he is wise (and he strikes me as politically adept) call a snap election whenever things bump back up and further weaken a PNP that is only now bearly showing signs of stemming the cannibalization.

The ball is in the court of the JLP, with the councils under their control and with a candidate who has never stopped campaigning the election is the JLP’s to lose. They must avoid blunder, walk on eggshells and stay far from a scandal at this point in time and if they do that then they have a hand on the trophy already. The PNP must be in a frantic mad dash at the moment as they aim to retain the seat and continue to ‘bite at the heels’ of the government, however they shouldn’t be too down if they lose and that shouldn’t herald the resumption of the civil war. They should instead take stock, try to retain Dr Alexis as the caretaker for the seat (as he has built up some rapport and is very young) and aim for the long run, that is the only way that they can hope of having a permanent chance in that seat.

PNP renewal, and so it begins

PNP renewal, and so it begins

It has been an eventful year and a bit for the PNP, having snatched electoral defeat from the jaws of victory in the general election, the disaster that was the local government election, the internal scandal that was the disappearing ‘donation’ or even the surprising (only because of timing) departure of the party president, it has been a chapter that the PNP must surely wish will be closing soon. The chapter looked to be coming to a close with the rise of ‘Team Renewal’, an ‘underground’ group of young PNP operatives who wished to shake up the party and move it from its current state of inertia, they started off well but by the end of it they looked to have been out of steam (see the race to replace Portia Simpson-Miller), a spent force beaten by the machine that is the PNP old guard,the renewal seemed to have been killed before it was even birthed.

That, however, seems to have changed in the past few weeks, and it seems that after much chatter and dilly-dallying, the new PNP seems to ready to be rolled off of the manufacturing floor and hit the road. The renewal process that the PNP is actually going through now is unexpected, it has come like a thunderbolt or lightning, and like sudden summer rains, it is most welcome. Dr Prter Phillips got the mantle of PNP president handed to him in something more reminiscent of a coronation of a monarch rather than a man who wished to lead the nation and his initial actions seemed to show that he was going to be more of the same. With the constant bickering, complaints about government policy without providing a credible (most times none at all) alternative and a coupled with a seeming inability to stem the purging in the party of those who wished to see a change, it seemed that Dr Phillips and team renewal was doomed.

Then came the past few weeks, ‘coincidentally’ a few weeks before a party conference which seemed set to be the most sombre conference since the parties founding. We got hit with a sledgehammer, from a party in stasis it has become one that seems to be getting back its agility. From a party that for decades lacked ideas they have suddenly become a party with quite a few good ideas albeit ideas that greatly need expanding on, and from a party that was ideologically bankrupt, a party that stuck its finger in the wind to determine their morals, they seem to have (tentatively ill admit) re-embraced their socialist (Fabian) origins.

No longer do we have a party that buys wholeheartedly into the neo-liberal agenda, who could imagine the PNP circa 2002 insisting that local companies be given preferential treatment for mega-construction projects for example? The party of the people after years of silence on the matter have rediscovered the urgent need for land reform in this nation, something that the man they hold in god-like status once realised was a must if we are to right the ship. The realizing that the crime bill (which they allowed to go through) is far from perfect and nowhere near enough to dent, let alone strangle crime is most welcome as is the zeal for further integration in the region.

Those, however, are words, and as we know all too well in this nation and especially as it relates to our politics, everyone knows what to say at what time to get what you need, hence our lovely phrase ‘action over word’. The PNP’s shuffled shadow cabinet is the first action that shows that something resembling a renewal process and that the small glimmer of socialism (of some sort anyway) is re-emerging in the party.

The shadow cabinet whatever one makes of the positioning of the personnel (and its current makeup does make one wonder what person X is doing in position Y) is a revelation. The influx of persons from ‘Team Renewal’ whom one could assume would have been thrown on the scrap heap have instead been brought firmly back into the fold (see Lisa Hannah and Damian Crawford). The shadow cabinet is an interesting mix of young and old, and putting aside the fact that it contains individuals who are toxic (but who do still hold massive internal sway), but more interesting still, is one that has ideas (whether one likes the ideas or not is a different matter) and a plan to implement them, is vocal on issues that really do affect the people on a daily basis and most importantly it is a group of individuals not blinkered in their thinking and are open to change so long as it reasons well.

cab17

The PNP still has a way to go as it relates to regaining the trust of the people that the took for granted, and though this may very well just be makeup on a pig it is a very solid start. More needs to be done, making the party transparent and accountable to its members and the nation is a must and in that stead, the donation scheme is most welcome but they have more to do. They seem to have the right team in place to steady the ship that is the PNP but they mustn’t expect miracles. Andrew Holness is very adept and savvy and baring any massive kerfuffle may very well have the next election under lock, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If they lose, but lose with grace, with ideas and policies, and with integrity then that would cement them for the following election, the renewal has begun, it will be slow and painful but the fruits will be worth it for both the party and the nation as a whole.

Can the PNP become relevant again?

Can the PNP become relevant again?

The PNP is in turmoil, with the internal elections now looking like a matter of a royal hand over (as seen with Dr Davies and Mr Golding and now Mrs Simpson-Miller and Mrs Brown-Burke) and the elevation and retention of persons who have proved to be ideologically bankrupt and inept as it relates to policy formation and implementation some serious questions need to be asked about whether this party can become more than the joke that it currently is. The party is on shaky ground and as things stand right now, even though the JLP is on the ropes in peoples minds, they do not see any other alternative as the PNP continues to cannibalise itself and stagnate.

omar-davies

Right now the PNP, in theory, should be in the ascendancy especially since they lost the last election by only two seats and we have a JLP government that seems to be lumbering incompetently along until the next election and instead of putting up an actual challenge we see them as a party fighting over the parochial spoils and positioning for the future.

We see this everywhere, for example during the recent internal (farce) election to fill the void left by the resignation of Portia Simpson-Miller, we saw all of the party bigwigs such as Paulwell all coalesce around Angela Brown-Burke, this was made all the more surprising since Angela didn’t even register and was nowhere in the polls. The farce continued when Simpson-Miller openly endorses Brown-Burke by claiming, and I kid you not that, she would ‘continue the legacy I have built in South West St. Andrew‘. This is a party that at every real or perceived misstep by the government is there baiting it on while offering little to nothing as it relates to an alternative, they are a party lost ideologically and seemingly failing at the one thing they were good at for twenty years, getting the votes.

The PNP has become so toxic and reviled, that even when it raises sound questions (such as the issues with the current ZOSO), they are shot down as either being purely opportunistic (playing politics with crime) or (and this is the cruncher) as being two-faced, as they now race to find fault with a law that they willingly let slide through with the farcical debate on its contents.

The party is bereft of anything relating to a core ideology and are now throwing anything at the wall in the hope that it will stick, as seen with PNP operatives writing letters lambasting the PM for sending aid (conveniently forgetting that Caribbean integration is supposedly a core PNP philosophy).

The PNP is in freefall mode, its senior ranks know that the days of Peter Phillips are limited, and rather than focusing on fixing the severely broken party, rather than coming up with concrete solutions (the five point plan on crime is utter drivel), they instead wage an open war of succession while denying it in the media (as if we are all fools). The PNP had better shape up and do it fast, it needs to admit its failings and come with some fresh ideas (a fresh outlook on socialism is much needed for example), it must champion the causes of the Jamaican people without doing it solely for power (see the many calls for Republican status), if not, then they will have to get used to constant internal conflicts and perpetual opposition status, because as bad as the JLP is, they at least have a plan, and that’s all the people want right now.

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.