Jamaica’s crime monster looks like it’s grown much stronger and we’re all suffering because of it

I’d be lying if I said that reports of high crime levels and rates in Jamaica do not worry me. I’ve long held the view that years of permissiveness could only have one result, in higher crime, and it becoming harder to deal with. It’s hard to see murders getting down to much lower sane levels in the next 10 years, let alone, 5 or even 2 (taking the due date in 2021 of the next general election as a possible trigger date).

Three years ago I wrote about the lamentable state of local policing, despite a number of PR efforts (and I include in that measures like the ‘state of emergency’ (SOE) and ‘zones of special operations’ (ZOSO), that fundamental lack is still present. Now, I accept that a major problem for the police force is simply it is understaffed. Why do I regard SOEs and ZOSOs as PR exercises? I cannot find any logical reason to expect such measures to work if they are applied partially. It’s just simple common sense that extraordinary measures like these will tend to fail simply because they put a premium on moving misbehaviour to places where the measures don’t exist. When these measures were not in place, policing already took on a ‘whack a mole’ character with criminals looking to avoid it by literally ducking the heavy surveillance. While I wished crime would decline, I could find no comfort in the measures taken. Little by little, the areas covered have been extended, but they also now face what is also inevitable with many ‘extraordinary’ measures–fatigue. Underlying behaviour has not changed so the causes of crime have not been addressed, therefore, crime must continue to grow. It’s like weeds in a garden that are not dug out at their roots but only deheaded–they come back and often overtake the area because the plants desired cannot fight them off and those who are weeding run out of energy. So, I’m not surprised to see statistics showing that crime reduction in SOE and ZOSO areas has almost halted or even reversed (see October Jamaica Observer report Crime figures continue to climb despite SOEs). Not only has underlying social behaviour not changed, but proximate triggers such as gang feuds remain unaddressed; these have dynamics of their own.

The change in social behaviour is going to be a hard task made much harder by an economy that still appears to be limping along, which means that many can remain tempted to try to get faster and bigger gains by ‘floating their own boats’ or ‘stealing the boats’ of others that are meant to rise with a rising tide, to use the common metaphor. The absence of fast growth was always a likely massive hurdle to any crime plan, not least because higher growth numbers signal much more hope for the average person so help with temptations to not be patient. Again, with a water metaphor, who wants to wallow in a stagnant pool, when they see possible nicer times in water that runs freely? So, one of the byproducts of crime plus lower growth is the continued high demand to flee the country by migrating. But, let me move away from the macro-economic-social and look at some of the micro elements. The one that is really shocking is the state of policing.

In keeping with a country that has an appalling record of low labour productivity, the police force is a demonstrable example of how we have not understood how to do more with less. If anything saps the average person’s willingness to help others is seeing an unwillingness to help oneself. That is one of the major failings of our national police force.

Accepting the limitations of understaffing, what could be done? One of the best ways to deal with inadequate human capital (too few workers) is to supplement it with other capital resources. In this case, capital means things like vehicles and technology. But, for these additional resources to make any notable difference they must be applied sensibly and extensively. That’s where our police force seems woefully stuck. Since coming back to Jamaica in 2013, I have read and listened to reports about some of this extra ‘capital’ coming to the aid of the police, in the form of technology like electronic log books, body cameras, dashboard cameras, CCTV, but also in the form of new and better vehicles for our situation. Six years on, I’m still to see such things taken on board to any extent; we’re still in the ‘promise land’: just yesterday we got another one about the use of ‘tech to fight crime‘. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me!

Jamaica is known to have an enormous ‘trust deficit’, and in the area of crime fighting this has become very low. Not only are people afraid that they may be victims of violent crime in their homes (you should feel safe in your ‘castle’ and be able to protect your loved ones), but that fear seems to be spreading to other (literally) walks of life, if anecdotally reported street crimes (muggings, assaults etc) are to be believed. Suspicion now spreads far and wide. Just a few moments ago, my neighbourhood ‘crime alert’ chat group was reporting concerns about possible scammers posing at workers for the National Water Commission coming to ‘check leaks’: it seems that no IDs were offered and the general reaction has been to not let anyone in. But, if these are criminals, they may already have gained much information from the failed encounters in terms of identifying residents and perhaps assessing their weaknesses. When does legitimate concern turn to paranoia?

People are taking measures to give themselves a few more layers of protection in prevention, such as alarms supplemented by CCTV and dashboard cameras in cars. All of which makes sense in country where more reports are circulating (some false) of kidnappings, or car seizures, or robberies on the road or supermarkets. We read some reports of licensed firearms holders fighting back and it’s not inconceivable that many more people are thinking of owning firearms (legally or illegally–not absurd in a country that cannot stem the flow of guns). Such incidents have dramatic impact on daily lives and what levels of precautions now seem standard.

That brings me to the other major concerns about personal safety. It seems that unruly behaviour on the roads (at least in the Corporate Area) has now crested an all-time high. Admittedly, we now have more ways to see and hear about this, but the examples are also egregious. While the police cannot be everywhere, the permissiveness that had taken hold is now reaping its massive harvest. One hopes that the examples set of taxi or minibus drivers being arrested and vehicles seized leads to more of that sector taking public safety into their concerns. But, truth be told, we are still are far way off from changing the risk:reward of not abiding by the laws. See this footage of my driver from the airport on Sunday afternoon, where a motorist clearly assessed the chance of running the red light and decided to do so. I state it this way to distinguish from cases where the light changes and it’s a sudden decision to stop or continue. Here we see a ‘calculated risk’ being taken. This time, no collision. But, next time?

Many have said that none of this will change or being properly addressed until when politicians find themselves victims. That’s not as cynical as some may think: we have a political class that tends to cocoon itself from the effects of crime, let alone many of life’s harsher daily realities, whether it be dealing with appalling public transport (when last did you see more than a chintzy photo-op of politicians riding any form of public transport?), or erratic or unavailable water and electricity or phone or internet services. We also know there’s a big elephant or two in the room as far as crime is concerned.

The pincer of weaker-than-expected economic progress and widening violent crime must have a big cost on Jamaica. In only a few of its member countries has the IMF felt the need to draw attention to crime as a constraint to economic progress, not least because it often isn’t of the order seen in Jamaica except in war zones.

So, Jamaicans ought to focus more on the fact this was done extensively in the 2018 staff report for the Article 4 Consultation (the annual or bi-annual ‘economic health check’ each member gets–see Figure 3 extracts above) that despite the country having been hailed as a kind of ‘poster child’ for economic policy success, it’s at near pariah status because of crime.

If Jamaicans want to lament the absence of ‘quality’ jobs they need only ask themselves what kind of investor would want to plant fresh or more capital into a country with our levels of violent crime. Because of such concerns, it’s still notable that relatively large investments continue to flow into the island, albeit in a narrow range of areas (eg hotels and property), but ones that are notable for building in higher levels of security.

While some politicians have acknowledged the direct costs of crime and crime fighting, it’s hard to assess its true economic cost in terms of actual dollars that could go to other important social development activities such as education and health.

Politicians can argue the toss over whether data series show poverty to be increasing or decreasing. The truth is that a country with our levels of violent crime that is not abating is a poorer place than it would be otherwise.

A hard road to travel: curbing mayhem on Jamaican roads

I think many Jamaicans will say “About damn time!” (excuse my language) at the announcement (yet another one) that the PM and government will take measures to deal with what has become a national ill. I speak of the mayhem and havoc on our roads on a daily basis, which seem to have gotten worse in the past year or so (or it could be that more of these instances are now captured in images and videos). So, the Gleaner headline says PM ‘vows to quell traffic chaos‘. Key points cited are:

  • “I want the taxi men and road users as well to appreciate that there can be no prosperity in chaos and disorder,”
  • Motorists who breached the Road Traffic Act with impunity by disobeying traffic lights would face stiff fines with the introduction of new technology to monitor breaches.
  • “Next year, there will be a programme to have smart technology, including cameras, at every single stop light in the Corporate Area,…The law has been modified to allow for prosecution of persons who have been detected by electronic means.”
  • The prime minister also revealed that he has had talks with Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson with a view to designating “zero-tolerance areas” in the country.

Truly, little of this is new in terms of intent, but the effort to use technology in the fight will be a new step. I am going to take the line of ‘fool me once…’ and say that promises of using technology to tackle a major problem in Jamaica have been made in the past and little signs of success are there and embarrassingly part of the failure has been the lack of implementation and maintenance of the technology. I offer as Exhibit 1 disused traffic signals that are now part of our urban architecture. I offer as Exhibit 2 body cameras for the JCF. My realistic assessment is also not moving towards optimism because as yet I have seen little to suggest the JCF has moved its technology profile much in decades. I offer as Exhibit 3 the police station manual log book. Some optimism may be due from the overdue measures to streamline and make effective the ticketing system so that fines do get paid and drivers who are continually indisciplined and dangerous face some serious sanction.

We have a road safety campaign dubbed ‘under 300’, which is aimed at getting road deaths down below that figure. We’ve been closer to 400 in recent years. Much of the trouble comes from motorcyclists and their obvious vulnerability and recklessness (in a regime that is so lax with regard to licensing that it’s only a fool who’d expect otherwise) and speeding and mad manoeuvres by other motor vehicles, plus the wanton disregard for personal safety of many pedestrians. There’s a general disregard for good conduct by many on the roads that puts all lives at risk all the time. I won’t go here into the complicity of those who design and build roads and their consistent introduction of more risk rather than less.

The most egregious behaviour that many see, repeatedly, especially by some route taxis and minibuses–wild overtaking, forcing extra lanes on busy roads, driving on sidewalks, indiscriminate stopping, overloading, and a host of other malpractices–are not often cited as causes of crashes or deaths. But the impunity that seems to be the privilege of this class of motorists sets a very bad tone about needing to take care on the road. We’ve not yet had the full accounting of the motorists brought to court with hundreds of unpaid tickets and whether they will really face the full force of the law in settling these, having their licences withdrawn or other sanctions (some would love to see vehicles crushed).

Many will have seen that writ large yesterday, ironically, as many of the partisan supporters of the PM and his party were heading to the National Arena for the JLP annual conference: speeding, passengers hanging out of vehicles, passengers on top of vehicles as they were being driven, undertaking on the hard shoulder, disregard for traffic signals. The short clip from my dashcam yesterday morning on Mandela Highway will show you exactly what was going on. Not far ahead of these instances we saw the results with a mangled car on the hard should by the new Nestle complex. Sadly, a cousin of mine who is a surgeon and was heading home at the time had to head to the hospital to perform surgery on one of the victims. That is another hidden cost of the road mayhem and its carnage, and is as savage in its cost to us all as the many murders and assaults.

Part of me wants to offer to the PM the suggestion that he should have upbraided his supporters in his speech, but that may seem a step too far.

I hope it’s not lost on many that this measure to bring some semblance of sanity to a vital part (no pun) of Jamaican’s daily experiences could be a major vote getter with the next general election looming closer in the rear view mirror.

Bank of Jamaica explains the FX market

Bank of JAMAICA took to the streets of Twitter to give an Econ202 tutorial on the foreign exchange market, reacting in part to talk of ‘crisis’ as the J$ crested 142 to the US$. It’s a lengthy and somewhat overdue attempt to educate the wider population. The thread begins here:

Several commentators, myself included, have tried over recent years to point out that the exchange rate is not behaving in any abnormal way and has shown signs of maturity in the past two years by bouncing in a range between the 124-136 range. Some have even pointed out that the purchasing power parity (PPP) level–taking account of inflation differentials between the USA and Jamaica–of the J$ is currently 142. See Kevin O’Brien Chang’s Stop currency crisis talk! column in the Jamaica Observer, this week.

I suspect that these won’t stop cries of precipitous slide but it’ll expose the unwillingness to see things for what they are. After all, the exchange rate has been a great political football.

What the FX market needs badly are instruments to help people hedge better and lock in prices, eg using forward contracts. Why those haven’t developed yet needs an honest conversation with the central bank, financial sector and businesses. Obviously, the need is there as planning is better with reduced uncertainties.

Piecing together the picture: Why P matters so much in Jamaica

Social media is often taken by some as a good barometer of people’s concerns, in part because a large percentage of the population is estimated to have social media accounts. I’m not wholly agreeing with that, however, but I accept that it does offer interesting insights. It’s a constant polling station, but without the nicety of being well-structured, so cannot be called representative in any rigorous scientific way. It also has the characteristic of ‘herd mentality‘, meaning that lots of self-reinforcing ‘trends’ tend to appear, in opposite directions.

As far as Jamaica is concerned, I’m not averse to the idea that social media has a strong bias in terms of say social class or socioeconomic status, but I cannot control that. So, the disparaging notion of it representing an ‘articulate minority’, as coined by then PNP-Chairman Bobby Pickersgill in 2014, may be true but it doesn’t make the views invalid. Social media commentary may well be consistent with the views of a wider population though many may not have the same access to social media platforms.

I’ve had a bit of a love affair over the past year or so with the letter P. A good friend of mine, who is now a politician representing a constituency beginning with P, will attest to that 🙂 It’s been an interesting bellwether or magnet for many issues. So, understanding that party politics involves a lot of propaganda, we know that the current administration has been selling the notion of prosperity as if it were the best hot bread at Coronation Bakery in Portland. That notion is based on deliberate economic measures such as tax breaks that were meant to put more money into the pockets of average Jamaicans. Yet, this notion keeps getting a wrinkled response from a wide spectrum of Jamaicans who say they are not expeiencing it, or worse, feel that they are living in poverty.

The ‘poverty is real’ feeling got a boost with the ‘latest’ data on national poverty (annual Survey of Living Conditions) released earlier this year, though inconveniently it relates to 2017 as its latest year. But, the release of that data led to the spillage of a lot of media ink and typical recriminations between our two main political parties.

As The Gleaner noted:  it is a ‘matter for robust debate as the potential outcome of the Government’s policy actions‘ and ‘represent a call to vigilance for the Holness administration to ensure that it frames an economic agenda that delivers growth with equity’.

What I find interesting and intriguing about the poverty aspects is how much of the concerns get aired on social media by a body that, while not immune in a fragile economy, would seem better placed–young professionals. There’s a lot to unpack in the concerns that I have seeen, including whether the cries of poverty reflect unrealistic expectations as opposed to real hardships. By that, I mean the simple truth that a lot of university graduates, say, may matriculate with expectations about job prospects that are unrealistic and when faced with cold reality cry ‘poverty’ as job satisfaction, pay, costs of living etc. stare them in the face with little margin. In other words, making your way in the world isn’t easy and maybe part of what we’re seeing is adjusting to that.

While not using my own experience as the best paradigm, when I went to university in the UK it was at the beginning of the 1973-75 recession, ending a long period of post-war expansion in industrial countries; during the recession, UK GDP declined sharply and it took over a year for that process to begin its reversal. I graduated in 1976 but decided to do post-graduate studies, so entered the workforce in 1978, by when conditions were improving (GDP rose over 4% that year). However, within a year, the UK economy was again in a severe downward trend as the Thatcher government took power after the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’. I moved from London and took a job in local government in Wales, which was a country just heading into a period when many were facing unemployment as mines closed (a process that went on from the 1970s through 1990s), and had the effect of decimating many communities. So, in my mind, I was always thinking I was lucky to have a job.

Like many starting on a working career, I had few savings, and did not realistically expect to own a house, and rented, though after a year of work, depressed housing prices made the prospect of owning a realistic option. It didn’t materialise for several reasons.

When my first daughter graduated from university in the mid-2000s, just as the USA was exiting a recession, I remember telling her that it was more important to get a foot on the job ladder and figure out afterwards whether she could climb from there or if she needed to jump off onto another ladder later. Work experience has a huge impact on job prospects.

All of that is to say that, for a good part of the past 40 years, rapid growth has not been part of the story for many coming into the workforce, which is a far cry from the story of most of the post-war period through the 1970s.

A country like Jamaica does not have many people who have any notion of what ‘fast growth’ really means in their own country. Some might have been fortunate enough to experience it abroad or perhaps at home in a sector that had some boom, but it’s not part of the national experience. So, how does that really shape expectations?

Even with what I would call paltry growth, many things are possibe in Jamaica now that were pipedreams in the mid-1970s, when the country might not have been ravaged by world recession but was racked by its own internal political and economic turmoil. Many material signs point to Jamaica having some of the best things to offer, if you have financial means. Interconnections with foreign countries and relatives abroad also mean that many Jamaicans can see worthwhile material gains for themselves. But, even with such gains, life in general can seem ridiculously difficult. It still takes substantial saving to buy a car or a house. How easy it is to bridge the gap through borrowing seems to be improving, if lower interest rates are any guide. But, new debt repayment on top of say repaying student loans is clearly a bridge too far for some, even most. So, a lot of deferred gratification appears to be more the norm than perhaps many expected.

This world is not the world of their parents. We may also have in place what has been seen elsewhere in recent years, namely ‘jobless growth‘ or a developing country manifestation of that in the form of growth in jobs that are not of really in keeping with improving skills or higher education. Much angst surrounds the notion of ‘worthwhile’ jobs, even though it no special phenomenon for graduates to face a market where they are overqualified. Part of the problem may also be a kind of mismatch, whereby we have churned out people with graduate ‘skills’ that are in overabundance and the jobs that are growing require much lower skills. That mismatch isn’t new or unique, and Jamaica has finessed for decades by most graduates migrating (about 4/5 of them according to most statistics). The ‘payoff’ for this migration has mainly been in individual personal development and remittance flows. But, this is something that happens with many small states, so we’re typical.

It’s trite to suggest the answer to this is simple. It’s not conundrum. What I’m wondering is if this is now becoming a phenomenon that pushes for a different kind of sociopolitical and socioeconomic change.

My focus on P means that I have a nagging suspicion about pent-up frustrations and unfulfilled promises. Looking around the world evidence is building that the release for that in some countries comes with a massive social explosion. Is that a prediction that has relevance for Jamaica?

Traffic tickets ‘fiasco’ explained: Another insight into disjointed public administration

For completeness, let me share what the Court Management System (CMS) issued yesterday (and was reported in both the Jamaica Observer and Gleaner, but replicated in full below–the bold highlights are mine for emphasis) in an effort to calm the public outrage about seemingly light fines or sentences for traffic violations. This is the ‘voice’ of the Judiciary, not that of the police force (and by extension the Ministry of National Security) which put information into the public domain, initially. So, its efforts ‘to clarify some of the misinformation which has been aired in both social and mainstream media’ is pointing an invisible finger at the JCF for its somewhat jubilant but unvarnished reporting of the traffic fines, such this Twitter post on October 17:

If I accept these clarifications, then my analysis in a blog post last week that we were seeing a disguised amnesty is incorrect. I hope, though, that we are kept abreast of how this process develops, in the spirit of transparency and full disclosure, because a lot of money is at stake if the underlying fines are not paid.

Court Management System (CMS) statement:

Following the extensive discussions in the public domain in respect of fines being imposed on Motorists who have been issued with hundreds of traffic tickets, the Judiciary would like to clarify some of the misinformation which has been aired in both social and mainstream media. The misinformation, we believe, is as a result of the release of incomplete information to the public.

The following should provide clarity on some issues raised in the ongoing public discussion on this matter:

  1. Outstanding Tickets
  • Each outstanding ticket relates to a separate charge. A number of the motorists who have hundreds or over a thousand tickets have accumulated them over several years, (in at least one case from as far back as 2010), and in more than one parishes.
  • Each Parish Court can only deal with those tickets issued within the parish for which that court has jurisdiction. Motorists who have accumulated tickets in different parishes have to attend court in each parish to answer to the tickets issued in that parish
  • Each outstanding ticket has to be located and relisted for hearing. If a motorist pleads not guilty, the matter has to be tried. For there to be a trial, the policeman who issued the ticket has to provide a statement, if one was not initially provided.

      2. Executed Warrants

  • When a motorist is brought before the court on an executed warrant, he only answers to the particular offence(s) listed on that warrant. For example, someone who has five hundred (500) outstanding tickets who is brought to court on three executed warrants, will only answer to the charges on those warrants and not all their outstanding tickets. The court can only deal with the offences listed before it. The other tickets remain outstanding for future adjudication. It is therefore inaccurate that the courts are giving discounted fines to persistent traffic offenders.

      3. Guilty Pleas

  • Once a motorist who is brought before the court on an executed warrant, pleads guilty to the listed offences and fines are imposed and paid, the court has no power to further detain the person on any other outstanding matter(s) unless another warrant is executed on the defendant.

      4. Available Sentencing Options –

The Road Traffic Act (RTA) stipulates the penalties that can be imposed:

  • Most ticketable offences do not carry the option of a custodial sentence regardless of how many times an offender has been ticketed.
  • The penalty is usually limited to a fine. The courts are not empowered to increase these fines.
  • In some circumstances, the court may additionally suspend the individual’s driver’s licence.
  • There are instances where the maximum fine that can be imposed by the court is less than the fine payable at the Tax Office. The offences of ‘exceeding the speed limit’ and ‘disobeying traffic signs and traffic lights’ for example, attract a lesser fine in court than at the Tax Office. If a person who is issued with a ticket for exceeding the speed limit, comes before the court, the maximum fine the court is empowered to impose under the RTA is $6,000.
  • Significantly, in respect of most ticketable offences, section 116(10) of the RTA prevents the court from considering previous offences when sentencing a motorist for a current offence, even where the previous offences are similar.

      5. Reform Initiatives

Through the joint efforts of the Ministries of National Security, Justice and the Court Management Services, a new Traffic Ticketing Management System (TTMS) will soon be commissioned. This improved system will among other enhancements:

  • Ensure that the police, tax offices and the courts all have simultaneous access to one constantly updated database showing an accurate status of paid and outstanding traffic tickets; and
  • Provide for the automatic generation of warrants for checking and signature to replace the manual completion of warrants that currently obtains.

The Judiciary of Jamaica enjoins all justice partners and stakeholders to ensure, as far as possible, that complete and accurate information is issued to the public concerning matters addressed by the courts. This will help to uphold respect for the Rule of Law and reduce the danger of the credibility of, not just the courts, but also the entire justice system being seriously undermined.

The Judiciary of Jamaica remains committed to doing our part to ensure the maintenance of law and order in our society.

This gives valuable insight into the the several aspects that go into the execution of punishment for crimes and as is somewhat typical in Jamaica points to horrible flaws and gaps in the management of ‘justice’, not least because of disjointed, even contradictory adminstrative procedures, incompatible legislation, and antiquated record-keeping. This is a microcosm of many of the things that fail in Jamaica, and no amount of urging has gotten them fixed in a hurry. The consequence in most cases is a sapping of public confidence and trust in public administration and the reaction that the system is corrupt. What we see, though, is a system that did not work properly (and its being ‘in tatters’ had been vividly shown in reports at the start of the year) and as such is another drag on attempts to change meaningfully how this country operates. Like a new born, we see nine months later the birth of the new system, and JCF acted like the jubilant parent. OK, let’s excuse what amounts to yet another misstep by Public Safety and Traffic Management Branch (PSTMB), which has managed to put its foot in its mouth frequently in recent months, further aggravating and disenchanting much of the Jamaican public.

If that seems a harsh assessment, put yourself in the shoes of the average Jamaican road user who personally endures travesties daily, and/or sees vivid evidence of a recklessness that is taking lives as if they do not matter, and in their genuine search for signs that these are being addressed then see what appears to be slaps on the wrist. What one needs to understand is that many will not see the explanations offered yesterday and will believe that the system is bent and tend to act consistently with that. News and information management is not trivial, especially in this age where it’s fast and disaggregated and checking for facts isn’t everyone’s forte and corrections can easily go unnoticed in a stream of information that’s hard to manage. Damage limitation often means taking some more time before issuing seemingly definitive releases to the public and indicating if and where gaps in that information may exist. But, of course, doing that admits to a certain fallibility that many organizations fear. Meanwhile, we the people have to deal with unnecessary confusion.

 

 

#RoadWarriorTalesJa—Expect the unexpected and visiting the undertakers

Tourists, especially North Americans, often comment about how fast Jamaicans drive. My observation is that this is more a reaction to vehicles travelling on narrow roads and closer to each other, compared to the more-spacious travel experiences on their roads–lots of multilane urban and rural roads, and even single lane rural roads can seem wide–rather than about real speed. However, I don’t argue much when they say Jamaicans do some crazy stuff on the road. The following videos give you a taste from yesterday early afternoon.

In the first (Grants Pen Road then Shortwood Road), you can see that impatience is rife and how it’s dealt with is often by bending traffic rules (overtaking when there’s a solid white line) and ignoring risks created for other road users (assuming no vehicles will be coming in the opposite direction from two entry points). Our narrow roads often result in delays caused by turns, as you can see in the early part, and build up of frustration is understandable. It’s responses aren’t always easy to address.

In the second, on a stretch of newish multilane highway (Mandela Highway westbound), we see common cause of frustration, the lane hogs in the outside lane. In the US, this is often seen and undertaking (passing on the inside) is often not illegal in multilane roads. In Jamaica, it’s supposed to be illegal but our exposure to that country make some assume their rules are ours. You can see that I succumbed as the line of traffic building behind the lane hogs was lengthening. Our drivers often don’t know the traffic rules (anecdotal evidence is that many just buy their licences) and so don’t respond to urging to comply. Lane hogging I often see practised by driving ‘professionals’, such as truck drivers and public bus operators.

You can enjoy spotting some of our looser driving habits, eg the driver with the arm dangling outside the vehicle 🤔😳🇯🇲

#RoadWarriorTalesJa–Crash course

You never know what lies ahead on the road. Yesterday, a man just walked off the sidewalk in front of my car as I approached a traffic light; not a look sideways or any sense that he might have been in danger. In Jamaican parlance, he looked like someone of ‘unsound mind, and he acted like one.

So today, after a quick errand to Cross Roads late Saturday afternoon, I was headed back to take a walk. But, as I approached Hope Road along Lady Musgrave Road, traffic seemed surprisingly congested; not like a weekday but sluggish. As I reached TGIF, I saw the problem a taxi crashed and a wrecker awaiting (see 2 minutes into the video).

For many who see it, the feeling will be far short of an ounce of sympathy that another route taxi will be off the roads for a while.

#RoadWarriorTalesJa–The gate switcheroo

When you thing simple things are made complicated for no apparent reason, you must mean ’in Jamaica’, especially.

What could be easier than using the gate marked ’entrance’? Using the one marked ’exit’!

This is at our National Stadium and I know this ’reversal’ is common because I used to go there often, but I forgot this week. What I recall is how this little switcheroo often caused a traffic jam, unnecessarily.

This time, my backing up wasn’t into a stream of rush hour traffic or at night and I didn’t add much risk. But, as easy as it seems, one wonders why things work this way and if they do, why not revert to ’use exit to enter’. Of course, that’d seem absurd! Jamaica, land we love! 🇯🇲👀😒

Looks like a duck, walks like a duck. So, why pretend we are not seeing another traffic ticket amnesty?

There’s an understandable tendency to defer to authority. At it’s worst, it means that people accept that all things done in the name of authority are good. It’s often manifested in reactions such as ‘rules are rules’. However, it’s good when ‘rules are rules’ are met by ‘well only some rules matter’ when applied by ‘the authorities’.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of highly publicized instances of traffic infractions being sent to courts and the results are ‘interesting’. The police have done their part: fines have been issued and summons have been laid against those who are delinquent in paying them. Jamaica has gone through years of fines going unpaid and the police have flagged that they either cannot impose payment or the system of ticket was dysfunctional and didn’t permit a proper tracking of non-payment. This was well spelled out in a recent Gleaner editorial, What’s So Hard About Fixing Traffic Ticket System?. As the Gleaner reported then: ‘…national security ministry conceded that their Traffic Ticket Management System isn’t appropriately synchronised across agencies and that it is often not fed with correct information.’ We learned, also, that drivers sometimes went to pay fines and found they could not! Without going into the technicalities, that dysfunction seems to have been fixed. However, in light of previous enforcement problems, the authorities decided to ‘cut their losses’ by offering amnseties, which ‘cleaned’ the slate, in essence. But, there were financial wins for the authorities, during the last (2018) amnesty, if they collected J$700m concerning 300,000 tickets, that’s about $2300/ticket. Not a bad haul. However, set that against the J$5 billion, at the time of the 2012 amnesty, and J$2.84 billion during the last one. That’s a hefty discount offered by the State. But, as I have said, repeatedly, Jamaicans are extremely rational and naturally saw the bigger win for them in hoping for and then accepting amnesties. The simple truth, though, is that the country was forced to lose precious revenue and accept that law-breaking paid. That’s a truth that stretches far and bolsters the sense of impunity that has its worse manifestation in the crime ‘wave’ that seems to know no cure.

Jamaica Constabulary have worked hard in recent weeks to repair some self-inflicted damage in the matter of policing traffic infractions and publicized a series of cases where those with astonishing numbers of unpaid tickets have been ‘brought to justice’, eg:

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Taking the previous figures as illustrative, we can see from these cases that the authorities are getting somewhere between $80-300/ticket–against some $2,100/ticket last time. This is an even heftier discount. I’ve no figures to confirm the actual level of fines that underlies these cases. Naturally, many see this as a travesty and worthy of query about ‘what is going on?’.

However, anyone who’s numerate or can apply logic can figure out that what has happened recently with the flurry of traffic convictions/fines is that the Jamaican ‘authorities’ have offered another disguised amnesty. The most generous interpretation is that the courts have applied fines to some infractions and excused others, or decided to apply ‘discretion’ and lower fines on all/most tickets. Either way, the outcomes are tme same. As we say in Jamaica: they gave a ‘bly’.

As past amnesties proved, they DO NOT CHANGE BEHAVIOUR, merely encourage delay in paying fines.

Will the authorities come clean?

The public sees rampant bad behaviour on the road, especially by some route taxi drivers, but also by other citizens. But, they also see little real evidence that the authorities want to curb that.

Give it back, it’s mine! On matters of ‘cultural appropriation’

It’s trite to say that the world is complicated. However, many of us are involved in trying to simplify much of the world’s complexities, with some success but often failing miserably. The following is just an example that arose this week.

We’ve just passed an important annual celebration in our nation’s short history as an independent entity and it tends to focus minds, often on things that were hiding in plain sight. Because of that realisation, we’re often treated to a brief period of outrage, but can’t say with hands on heart that anything will change and the cause of our ire will not recur.

So, the topic is ‘appropriation‘. In its simplest form, dictionaries define it as ‘the act of taking something, usually without permission, like stealing your brother’s french fries when he is momentarily distracted. Appropriation originally referred to the taking of private property, usually by the government’. Ironically, our ire has been stirred by a private person taking something our nation (qua government) owns and taken us into the thorny forest of ‘cultural appropriation’.

So, normally, we get upset if we suspect appropriation has happened to personal property (at its worst, we suspect theft). But, we are also upset if this appears to happen to things we see as ‘national property’. Again, at its simplest, we notice it with real assets such as land or other forms of property, but also our financial wealth (eg if our national foreign exchange reserves were seized or frozen by another country or misappropriated by public officials). In such cases, it’s quite easy to understand what has been taken. But, the world has become more complicated when it comes to assets and those that are less tangible, such as intellectual property, can cause lots of problems.

Over the past few days, this latter problem has surfaced because the American superstar-musician Kanye West came to Jamaica all of a sudden and performed a ‘Sunday Service’, reflecting his new-found state of grace in enbracing Christianity. His religious conversion is his business and sharing iti with anyone else is also his business. But, in the process he appropriated some of Jamaica’s property in the form of our national symbols (coat of arms and crest of the City of Kingston) on merchadise that was being sold to commemorate the event and of course to gain revenue to more than compensate for any costs he incurred: it’s business, profit is normal. Our Minister of Culture and Entertainment has said publicly that this was done without seeking permission: “We neither received a request for nor did we give permission for our national symbols and emblems to be used for a commercial manner or otherwise. I have since requested that the items be withdrawn, and the vendor has agreed to do so,”. She has requested the merchadise be pulled. Enter stage right, on cue, Outrage and National Pride.

I wish the minister good luck. I think, for the sake of goodwill, the merchandise will be pulled, though someone will need to check on a continuous basis that this remains in effect until such time as permission is sought and granted. Whatever costs were incurred in creating the merchandise needs to be covered directly by selling it or by ekeing out profit from other sales to compensate for the loss. If reports that Mr. West’s business is valued at US$1.5 billion and hopes to soon move to $3 billion are correct, one can do the quick assessement that things that make losses are not part of the ‘master plan’. But, what if ‘good will be damned!’ steps in, despite this seeming like an un-Christian stance? What could little Jamaica do? The means to protect intellectual property nationally through the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) or internationally through the World International Property Office (WIPO) isn’t easy, not least because other countries stand to gain much from filching others’ property. The adage is that size doesn’t matter, but trust me, in matters like this, it matters a lot. ‘Take him to court!’, ‘Throw the book at him!’ Calm down. Where should we take him to court? Which book should we throw at him? Many Jamaicans will know that even simple matters of law and fact don’t come to quick resolution in the land of wood and water. In fact, our motto could be changed to ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’; that’s a bit harsh, perhaps, but enough cases have languished for one to say that it’s not too far from the truth.

So, I will watch from my little perch to see where the exhortations and pleadings go. I’m not a cynic, but a realist, and being an economist my vision of the future must be based on prudent assumptions. But I don’t see any major win coming our way, though I am happy to be proved wrong.

I haven’t shown any clear images of the offending merchandise out of a sense of (too much?) caution that doing so would also be a kind of infringement.

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Sunday Service Concert at Emancipation Park, October 18, 2019 (photo credit: Buzz Caribbean)

But, keen people can see more precisely for themselves what is at stake by searching the Internet.

In all this, I could add the somewhat obvious points about what happens when: (1) things are done in haste; (2) negotiations are between unequal parties; (3) talk is cheap and actions don’t stand up as tall as words (how long has the matter of protecting national property rights been on some ‘back burner’); or more. But, let’s leave those considerations for another time, eh. 🙂