I spy with my little eye: serving the Jamaican public good is more than paying it lip service

As I’ve noted before, the relative and absolute distance of being away from a place can help to let one see better or at least differently some of the good and bad things of another place. I’m loving a short visit to London, as winter is ending and spring is sprungen.

London is always an adventure, even after living there for 30 years; something new can be seen because old stuff was missed in the past and new things are always springing up. Yesterday, I met with some old friends (of over 40 years standing) from university and we spent the afternoon in The City of London, near The Monument. Now, that monument is to the Great Fire of London in 1666, which began in a bakery in Pudding Lane, adjacent to where the monument stands. That construction to commemorate a disaster was once the tallest building in London. But, I was due to go to what is now the tallest–20 Fenchurch Street and to its Sky Garden, which offers a panoramic view of London and its adjacent lands. To say the view was spectacular is to understate what a feast the eyes had, and pictures barely do the view justice. It was a magnificent sunny day. But, I’d love to visit several times during the year to see how the landscape changes with the season. *Note to bucket list*.

But, what we see are the outcomes of many things natural and man-made, and it was the latter that kept floating through my head as I thought about Jamaica–what makes it also a marvelous place to see, but too often a place where frustrations recur and boil over and those who should be focused on making them less seem to be bad at doing that.

London is the result of centuries of private and public decisions, many of which have been in total contradiction to each other, but which found coherence through a series of national and local government agencies doing much to solve urban development problems through actions that worked because they were put in place and made to apply–eg banning open fires and burning coal–and understand what complementary actions would make such polices work better. One area where it shows well is the move to extend environmental concerns through various forms of recycling and resuming, which means having clear national and local policies, making provisions for these to be applied, and penalizing harshly those who do not respect the policies (both implementing agencies as well as the public).

It’s not hard to see many of Jamaica’s problems as the result of poor policies, or policies poorly implemented or not implemented at all, and the absence of necessary complementary actions.

One thing that strikes me about a lot of policy making in Jamaica is how it goes on in the absence of what my training tells me should be a key element–understanding the people whom the policy is meant to affect–the agents who should administer as well as the public who are affected. I’m going to look at that briefly in the context of a few pieces of easily-observed daily life.

Now, my first observation is that Jamaica needs less new legislation than it needs existing legislation to be implemented properly. What happens with partial implementation of anything is that it creates ‘gaps’ for other activities to take hold, and often supplant intended outcomes. We see this a lot with many aspects of social conditions in Jamaica. Take two important areas, for example:

  • Housing policy is in chaos because those responsible for housing policies have abdicated that role and let settlements come into existence without planning and proper resources.
  • Roads (and traffic) are in chaos because (a) construction has been poorly planned; (b) construction has been poorly overseen and maintained; road traffic laws have been weakly administered. Consequently, Jamaicans drive on roads more noted for their state of disrepair than anything else and have to contend with behaviour on roads that exists because the costs–actual, in terms of fines or other penalties imposed and paid as they are due, opposed to notional, as represented by fines on the books–of not adhering to those laws in low.

Yet, despite the major problems being about what has not been done by those who have control over rules and laws, we see governments hell-bent on introducing new laws, as was the case recently with a new Road Traffic Act (RTA)–passed on February 6. As reported by the government’s information service:

‘The new Road Traffic Bill, which will repeal and replace the existing 1938 Act, was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (February 6).

The legislation, piloted by Minister of Transport and Mining, Hon. Mike Henry, was approved with 131 amendments. It will establish new offences, as well as provide increased penalties for breaches.

Among the features are: a restriction on handheld devices; and a requirement for drivers to have a licence in their possession while operating a vehicle.

Offences under the Bill include: driving without required motor vehicle insurance coverage ($20,000); driving a motor vehicle without being the holder of a permit or driver’s licence ($40,000); failure of driver to obey traffic light ($24,000); loud noises within silence zones and failure to wear a protective helmet ($5,000); failure to comply with traffic signs ($10,000); and failure to stop at pedestrian crossings ($12,000).’

This is almost like a classic case of not understanding some simple rules about arithmetic and running ahead with calculations that make little sense. So, using that parallel, we should know that anything multiplied by zero is zero. Therefore, applying anything additional to something that is not being administered means that nothing new will be administered. So, you have higher fines on not obeying traffic lights in a country where there is little official observance of what goes on at traffic lights. Is the expectation that there will be more self-policing? You have higher fines for not wearing a protective helmet in a country where one can see motorcyclists without helmets congregating outside a police station as their regular place or rest. Eyes wide shut! Fines for not stopping at pedestrian crossings in a country where it’s not customary for the public to stop at pedestrian crossings or for drivers to respect those places as ones where they should stop to let people cross, and many of the crossings are so indistinct or poorly marked as to be worthy of a quiz asking ‘where am I?’? Really? This is a classic case of doing things for the sake of being seen to do something–yes, the 1938 law needed updating, but, first the police need fixing.

In the case of the RTA, being about things that affect people’s behaviour and that should have monetary consequences, one needs to understand what must be happening to the monetary relationships. It’s a simple deduction that if fines are in place and levied but drivers are not paying the fines in a timely manner—something we know and observe, clearly, because we have just ended a period of amnesties for fines which was extended–then levying new and higher fines will not make drivers pay these with anymore readiness. Instead, they will (a) continue to await (the almost inevitable) amnesties; (b) find ways to avoid fines being fully levied–for which we can deduce a hope for police officers to offer alternative charges that do not appear on official records or avoid being stopped by police (a dangerous alternative, but not out of the realm of possibility). So, what we should expect to see from new fines under a new RTA is an increase in unpaid fines and an increase in ‘bribes’ extracted by and paid to police. Policy makers should not be surprised by this, because they have not raised real incentives for drivers to behave differently. In particular, there is nothing to compel police officers to do better policing. Hence, we see the kind of exhortation by police ‘high command’ to policemen to not take bribes. Hello! Tell a dog to not chew on a bone! At the end of the day, the national treasury will be much fuller–happier Ministry of Finance and public who can believe that more funds are available to spend on social programmes–but roads will not be safer–sadder Ministry of Health and general public who face many of the same dangers as before.

But, let’s note that Jamaican legislators are not short of stubbornness in the face of passing legislation that makes little real sense.

What can one expect in a country where the last image you have of traffic police is seeing two male officers happily engaged in a conversation with a lady (driver?) on the side of the north-south highway, sitting on the back of their truck with arms folded while vehicles sped along their way in excess of the posted speed limit? (By the way, I have witnesses in the form of foreign visitors who thought it noteworthy 🙂 ) When the police force’s actual priorities are not about serving and protecting the mass of the people, what should one expect?


That’s news to me: a glimpse of what the world is saying about Jamaica

When you’re away from your home, it’s always interesting to know what the rest of the world sees of interest about your home. So, here I am in London–in winter. I’m not missing the heat of Kingston. Why should I? I chose to come. I get to watch European football in the right time zone, not at breakfast or lunch time–still getting used to that. I now don’t have to miss the news from home, because thanks to wonderful inventions like the Internet, I can still stay in touch with Jamaican news sources. I presume that they are usually the best at capturing what is likely to capture the attention of those at home. So, in my few days away, what did I learn from them? Briefly, and in no particular order, I list three things:

  • PM backs down from his decision to appoint ‘acting’ Chief Justice. (Aka…no one elected ME to lead the country, but seeing as I have that position, let me pretend that it’s more legitimate than it is…)
  • Police officer pepper sprays a journalist trying to cover an aggressive attempt to restrain a member of the public, including a another police officer pulling at what appears to be a child no older than 4 years old. (Aka…Community policing means JCF treating fellow citizens like the offsprings of slaves that we know them to be, and who are you to tell us that we have no right to do so?)
  • Jamaican women’s bobsled team coach walks off the job at the Winter Olympics, before the team has had a chance to competed, and allegedly threatens to take her sled with her. (Aka…If it ain’t broke let’s break it so that someone else can fix it. There’s a pattern here, folks 😦 )

But, what has caught the eyes and ears of reporters in Britain? Guess? The drama of the not-so-cool runnings in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Well, at least I did not learn of the story first from The BBC, though they did a segment this morning on what was being reported in the British newspapers. It’s a good sports story, though, in the ‘I’m taking my ball home, so you can’t play’ variety, even though the issues are far from being that simple. I think the ownership and related liability issues are complex. They also point to aspects of life in countries like Jamaica, where ownership of important assets is often the province of foreigners.

However, whatever people may say or think about Jamaica on the sporting map–and it’s not all about Usain Bolt–the country knows how to generate drama. If I thought even for a moment that this was part of some publicity stunt, I’d say so. It’s hard to think of what real benefits could come from the story. Jamaica isn’t really expected to do well in the event, but with the world awestruck by its athletes’ prowess, it could hope that they could run off coolly with a medal. That would make tears flow more than if a one-legged Samoan had flown down the skeleton track and finished in 1st place even though his was the first run ofhte event.

But, contrary to the adage of former-president Obama, Jamaica does sporting drama. Internal bickering is something in which we could easily and regularly get gold medals. That is not a cynical view! But, pending further developments, let’s say that Valentine’s Day did not produce an outburst of Ich liebe dich from the German coach. Instead, it turned in Trash Wednesday.

From London, I remain your humble servant. 🙂

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride: Jamaican government plumbs new lows in #politicobabble

It’s not often that I take issue with what Jamaican politicians do or say. Sorry! That is a blatant lie! But, look, I fessed up immediately and owned my mistake. Those two things immediately set me apart from the common or garden, or dare I say lesser-MP.

In recent days, I have rubbed my eyes blood red as I digest what passed for logic in certain decisions made by our PM. Not content with getting learned counsels criticizing his decision to not appoint an actual Chief Justice, the PM tried to justify his appointing Bryan Sykes as acting Chief Justice. The latest salvo came in a stinging Gleaner editorial this morning, entitled Justice Holness acting beyond his competence. I’ll just give you a taste:

‘Justice Andrew Holness’ waffle regarding his decision to appoint Bryan Sykes as acting chief justice, contrary to precedence and the tenets and spirit of the Constitution, has revealed his tone-deafness in the face of unchallengeable legal wisdom.

His intransigence now centres on the claim that he had never had contact with the previous chief justice Zaila McCalla, nor with the current acting holder, Justice Sykes, an argument that is immaterial.’

Learned QC, Peter Champagnie, wrote in the Observer last week (my stress):

1. It is unprecedented in Jamaica’s history and adds fuel to the fire that, in recent times, there appears to be an attempt to interfere with the independence of our judiciary, be it whether by declaring on political platforms that judges should not give bail to persons charged for certain offences, or that judges should not impose certain types of sentences. In both these instances, there is a flagrant disregard for the rule of law by those who are critical of our judges.

2. Section 99 (1) of our constitution, which is being relied upon by the prime minister to appoint an acting chief justice, is in my respectful view not in conformity with the spirit of that which was intended by the framers of our constitution. This section did not contemplate the appointment of an acting chief justice in a situation where there is a clear vacancy of the post upon the retirement of the holder of the office.

My measly words cannot do justice to the subject, and I would be acting out of character if I tried to upstage either the Gleaner Editor or one of our pre-eminent Queen’s Counsels. So, I rest my case on their arguments.

But, let me say that the current government has not sought to curry favour by avoiding seeming like it wants to be a laughing stock. It’s taken a page out of the manuals of good PR companies and sought to dress up many a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s most recent was in deciding that it’s possible to speak our murder problem away. Minister of National Security, Robert (‘Bobby’, how fitting for one overseeing the police) Montague said, yesterday (my stress):

“We want to make it very clear that after this afternoon, we will no longer refer in St James to the state of (public) emergency. We are in the tourism capital. Tourism is the life blood. A state of emergency has a negative connotations (sic) overseas and therefore, we would like to refer from hence forth to the enhanced security measures,”

A man not noted for the best choices in words, and who recently apologized (many months after the fact) for saying that is uncle is an Obeah man (you can’t choose your relatives), tells us that the life blood is in tourism? Pray that no life or blood of a tourist is taken in the vaunted capital of St. James! Never mind the optics, feel the cynicism! Jamaicans, let the minister tell you that murder has been overstated. A cynic will recall that when the Zone of Special Operations was designated in Mount Salem, St. James, in came in a hail of inaccurate statistics about murders in the area. Now, the nasty taste of murder will be wished away in new polticobabble.

So, foreigners are so stupid that they will now shower positive connotations on St. James–the land of enhanced security measures. “Oh, those murder figures that are rising through the roof for St. James and Montego Bay must fake news, honey!” They will now in a flash ignore the travel advisories issued by their feckless governments and decide that Montego Bay etc are no worse for murder than Iceland. Bring it on! My cousin organizes an annual conference for neuroscientists in Montego Bay and it was held about 10 days ago. I should suggest he bring in the minister for a live study in neural activities.

As lawyer and former-Contractor General Greg Christie noted (as did I earlier), the change of name for the state of emergency is not trivial; a state of emergency has legal and constitutional backing:

These utterances are from same government that decided recently that we did not have criminals anymore, but ‘violence producers’. Look how well that affected the crime statistics (not). I hear that the apprentice starting wages for these posts are poor, but with diligence and regularity the takings can be much better. Wait till STATIN can get its hands on the activities of the underground economy. Which makes me wonder.

Taking my and others’ concerns aside, this could be the start of great things for Jamaica. It’s surely only a matter of time before we remove the negative connotations of data that show more anaemic economic growth by restating that as ‘spectacular growth performance’. That way, tourists can visit Montego Bay and live with the impression that they are not going to Jamaica, possibly one of the places an American president referred to recently as s***hole countries, but heading to Monte Carlo.

What could possible go wrong? ‘Mr. Trump, your golf cart is waiting.’ 😉

Tourism in Jamaica-tendentious to the last

Jamaica’s relationship with tourism is a sort of social elephant in the room. My current motivation to explore that tendentious issue is partly that I’ve been hosting friends from France and been experiencing first-hand some of what Jamaica offers foreign visitors directly and what can be made of interest to them and anyone in general. I’ll write separately about that after they’ve gone this week and incidentally before I go off on a trip overseas.

I’ve said before that I was never a fan of tourism as an economic development base–given its tendency to make many think its a source of easy money, so it carries many of the problems of windfall gains–but can understand its attractiveness if only from the simple standpoint of exploiting comparative advantages that nature and location have made more pertinent. I also wrote recently that one of the major changes in modern life was the ease and relative cheapness of international travel. Without that, countries like Jamaica would have remained the playground of mainly the rich and famous; they’re still important, but well-outnumbered by millions of ‘ordinary’ people seeking a getaway. That might have been a better thing in hindsight for the nature and quality of the product–if you think that a niche focused on quality rather than quantity is somehow going to be better–but an inevitable outcome of that would have been a much lower level of income flowing from visitors to the country overall. Whatever the retention rate of income from foreign visits, the overall flows do matter if only in a temporary way, but also in terms of its potential–people see opportunities to make money, even though they may not exploit them well or at all. But, the spread of mass tourism inevitability changes the relationship between host and visitors in many ways, and in the case of Jamaica, in a not too good way, I venture. We’ve integrated poorly the needs of the tourism sector in areas like food supply and noticeably (though I have no clear idea how it could have been managed well otherwise) in terms of the potential social relationships between hosts and visitors.

One of my issues with mass tourism for developing countries is the impact that sudden large injections of income have on social relationships. At best, every member of the host population could gain on average the same amount from visitors (if, say, all foreign spending went into a massive national pot and was then distributed evenly–Utopian thinking, maybe). At worst, a few individuals, including those who own directly or indirectly tourism assets, gain from the massive flows. They then have the choice of sharing part or all of their gains. Jamaica has had a bit of both, because some revenues from tourism (say, in the form of taxes on the sector) flow into the national treasury and are then available (mainly to redevelop the sector, but, in principle, it could be used more widely). However, a lot of revenue flows all over the place because workers in the sector gain wages, vendors of all sorts gain revenues from selling to tourism enterprises or to visitors directly, both legal and illegal products. From all of that, some have gained a little, while others have gained a lot. I do not have data on how gross tourism revenues have been shared over the nation or how the net revenues have been settled and what are the clear identifiable gains from that. In the absence of such data–and they are hard to compile for many reasons, including the obvious one that illegal activities are generally well hidden. But, one can adduce or deduce by proxy some of the impact by looking at things such as the nature, volume and style of local housing developments in areas close to tourism centres. Some of that is genuine speculative development for rent or ownership by foreigners (or even local visitors). Some may be development for local ownership based on gains from tourism-related activities. Some may be development financed by based on gains from foreign travel, whether as part of the diaspora or as migrant workers. Some seems directed to the needs of workers in the sector. And so on. Now, some will have views on whether some or all of this should be controlled or directed by public policy, and feel that bad results should then be laid at the hand of a less-than-caring government. Take that there if you wish.

Such developments point to what kind of chasm tourism can create in countries. The visual message is that ‘there is money to be made’. So, many will flock to the sector to try to get their share. It’s evident in industrialized or richer countries, too. So, the influx of oil wealth from the Arabian Gulf has transformed many parts of the world, notably the property market in the UK. When OPEC imposed its embargo on oil exports in 1973 against countries supporting Israel (including the UK) and oil prices quadrupled in 1974, who foresaw what would happen to the sudden surge of income and that the UK, say, would be one of its major beneficiaries? London already had attractive assets, including property, so prudent investment management would have had some of them on the ‘shopping list’. Voila! Property boom in prime parts of London. More sales of luxury cars. More sales at swanky department stores, etc. More travel through Heathrow. More signs in Arabic. Who won? Who lost?

When mass visiting by foreigners is a ‘natural’ or spontaneous part of a country’s development it’s impact can be quite different. Mainly, when visitors tend to just appreciate what is already in place it tends to be more readily understood that no special effort has really gone into the development. So, British history is well known, and many historical artefacts have been treasured and well-maintained, so people visiting them was a feature long before mass foreign tourism came into being. Now, with competition, it happens that enhancements get put in place (parking, rest facilities, marketing of various kinds, etc.) and ancillary developments occur (lodgings may be in demand, food and drink sales may increase dramatically, etc.).

Tourism (or the mere influx of visitors) tends to highlight social divisions, especially in terms of income and access, but also in terms of feelings such as xenophobia in particular or resentment in general (ask about the experiences of Jamaicans who are returning residents–not a pretty picture). You get the chance to compare and contrast, and to harbour feelings about ownership and rights to national patrimony. This is true almost universally. The Swiss, say, despite their wealth, may prefer to keep the niceness of their lifestyles for themselves. Alright, come if you must, but don’t stay too long and please leave quietly. 🙂 So, resentment of visitors is a common outcome. When the income gaps between hosts and visitors are large, or perceived to be such, that resentment can be more widespread and lead to various forms of social conflict, one of the more obvious being the propensity of poorer people to extract from the wealthier. That can be done subtlety (ie hoping that generosity will flow freely) or brutally (through various forms of criminality). So, foreign visitors have to tread carefully, knowing they are targets–and this applies universally, so don’t get all huffy about how white people want to think badly of black people. My first sight of a mugging was in Florence, Italy, in the 1970s, when I saw motor scooter riders ripping handbags off the shoulders of pedestrians in the city centre. Motor scooter muggers True white-on-white crime. Such things are now commonplace in many cities, or wherever large people circulate. Some places will be affected less, because of general local attitudes to crimes against people, others may suffer worse. So, whether in our local market, the extraction comes in the form of expecting generous tips or selling services for well-over reasonable local prices or from selling services like drugs and sex, extraction processes are underway. Now, almost inevitably, such extraction possibilities will attract many, including those involved in organized crime.

Oddly, this social division may not leave either set of parties discontented. Some tourists live in a world of guilt about what their travels represent and are relatively unfazed by the thought of their giving more money to locals; they know the world is unfair and even though they add to that on one hand, some try to redress the balance on the other hand. Of course, that can get near-ridiculous and also set off another wave of unreal expectations. So, the tourists who are ready to give up a set of golf clubs, or their nice expensive holiday clothes, or the rest of the (seemingly worthless) local money, naturally leave the impression that ‘these people have more money than sense’. I’m not sure if they would agree with a view held by some in Jamaica, or elsewhere, say, that scamming is a form of (justifiable) reparations.

My own feeling about Jamaican mass tourism is also that it’s something that the majority of the population has never really bought into. With its focus largely on coastal areas in the north of the country, those who were not in those areas did not feel connected to it. These were essentially rural areas whose main form of economic survival was in decline (say, sugar cane growing) and with relatively small populations (despite its being called the ‘second city’, Montego Bay is no more than a small town). It’s getting an international airport that served North American and European needs to get easy access to sun and sea made sense but really din’t impact much the rest of the country. As focus changed and other areas started to feature (especially on the south coast), naturally more people saw the possibility of a stake in the sector, especially as its nature was different–being more rustic and generally smaller scale. The markets aren’t the same in many ways. Kingston was also different given that much of its foreign tourism was based around business rather than leisure, but it also offered more that was already available in terms of entertainment and history etc; yet, it was never really much exploited as a broad leisure tourist destination (though that may be changing with the sight of cruise ships docking in Kingston Harbour setting off waves of speculation and excitement).

At a glance, literally, one can see what tourism means in Jamaica. Travel to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, for example, and see people dressed in the uniforms of hotels and leisure establishments; also, you see streams of taxis or minibuses ready to take visitors to points of interest. You see tourists out trying to enjoy themselves, often doing things no self-respecting local person would do, like jogging at midday :). You see also the other associated activities, depending on time of day, vendors of all sorts of things (and let’s not be coy about what’s for sale 🙂 ). In some areas of Montego Bay, especially, you see an upsurge in construction. So, you can see where a lot of money is flowing into local pockets. In Kingston, you’re hard pressed to see a similar set of sights aimed at visitors, except at the airport. Even our major sights in Kingston (such at the Bob Marley Museum or Devon House) are not easily identifiable as tourist attractions if one were to look for uniformed personnel. This is more striking when you venture to places such as Port Royal or Rockfort Mineral Baths. Who would know that these are major points of interest? Venture to the south coast and you see a picture that’s a mix of the north coast centres and Kingston: few places have any notable indication that they are really attractions for tourists. To me, this is nice as they are meant to be ‘off the beaten track’. But, even Jamaicans can miss them or never know of their existence. I find it funny who knows about ‘Border’ (where the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Westmoreland meet) and the place to get great fried fish and bammy. Last week, I took some visitors to Gut River, one of the most beautiful natural sights I’ve ever seen, on a road so bad that only the brave or fools would venture 🙂 Milk River is well-known and now well-signed and now with a better road than before. But, low-key it remains. At the west end, we have Negril, with it’s hotel strip (akin to Mobay) and Bohemian reputation. If you reach that far, then you know what you’re looking for.

But, here we are in this awkward ‘marriage’. Tourism has allowed Jamaicans to have more money flowing into our island. It has enhanced visibility on a global level. The best that Jamaica offers in terms of natural beauty is hard to beat. The worst we offer (say in terms of service and traffic issues) is often not so unusual for those who travel. We have a ‘face’ that is shown to visitors that’s often welcoming and generous. We have all-year-round what many crave–sunshine. Our food is more than tasty and interesting. We undersell our history, badly. We undersell our culture, too, besides our music and our sporting reputation. We have people who feel distant from tourism and dissed by it, too. But, if we’re honest, we live in a country that distances many of us and disses many of us as a matter of routine.

But, guess what? If ever a piece of national development showed what public disengagement from policy-making means, then look at tourism. If there was a national debate on the way forward for the sector, then please tell me when and how widely it was held. That some people now feel saddled with something that they don’t like tells me more about what I believe is the compliant even even complicit tendencies of many Jamaicans, who often only feel push to express views when they feel their corns being stamped on. It’s one of many areas where the population had little input to the shaping of what was really theirs to influence. Now, standing around and scratching heads and wondering how things turned out so? Those whose motives and knowledge helped craft a monster now feeding its crime-driven lust should stand in shame but no less should be the shame of those citizens who thought they too could take a bite of that poisoned fruit that was offered.

I ask again: Why did the government take so long to act against crime? Is it the economy, stupid?

It’s clear to me that, implicitly, at least, the current Jamaican government had as part of its ‘strategy’ for dealing with crime, expected benefits from a faster-growing economy. Conventional wisdom is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ and that a fast-growing economy is more likely to absorb many people whose skill levels do not put them high on the list of those to be readily employed. This is important for those near the bottom of the labour force, who can command a shrinking number of jobs and usually get lower pay.

The problem with the strategy was several-fold. First, there is no guarantee that unskilled labour will be taken up in any great numbers nowadays because many technological changes make such labour less desired, either because productivity of other workers has risen, or the need for simple mechanical or physical operations has been reduced. This is a global trend. Second, many investors in Jamaica are leery of the quality of Jamaican labour: this reflects decades of declining labour productivity, so it’s just simple economic or financial sense to look for labour from other markets, or to invest elsewhere. Third, the base of the strategy was fragile: after decades of stagnant growth, the promise of faster growth (let’s go with #5in4) was tempting, but frankly not that realistic.

So, reality bit hard. Labour was needed at a much faster rate than before, which meant that the alternative opportunities that could have been expected to help tempt (especially) young men and women into the formal (or even informal) and legal economy were not appearing. Thus, the supply line of young, able-bodied people to add to the corps of criminals did not change much. Therefore, a rapid rise in violent crime was not surprising.

It was perfectly reasonable for the government to give itself time to see how the economy was faring after its tax cuts and promotion of a ‘new’ growth strategy. But, for me at least, it was clear that the economic strategy was not going to bring much faster growth because it lacked a lot of plain economic logic. I’ve commented before about the budgets and how I think they are more growth-negative than growth-positive. I’ve yet to see much to change that view. In addition, the things that seem to be affecting growth positively (eg in agriculture, it’s good weather) are not policy variables.

Yet. I’m still bewildered why it took nearly two years to realise that with a faltering economy something more direct needed to be tried with violent crime.

I’m not convinced that the recently declared public state of emergency is indeed the right strategy, but it’s going to have more than a little ‘feel good’ effect, but I understand that change is sometimes a catalyst, whatever it is. (It’s well-known that positive things come merely from announcements.) I wish the government well, and I wait for them to come clean with the public about their thinking and what it may mean for how they handle other tendentious issues.

A balance sheet approach to policy issues

Many people struggle to see more than one (their) side of issues. For my sins, economics focuses a lot on seeing many sides of issues. For simplicity, though, one can approach many issues with what I’ll call a balance sheet approach. Some may see that as pros and cons, achievements and failures, etc; really trying to assess positives and negatives. I take that approach with a lot of problems I try to understand, so my conclusions are usually nothing much to do with individuals (though they are not a trivial part of the mix) but much to do with how things are really working.

I’m explaining that so that those who love to see all issues through their blurred political lenses will stop thinking that I come at things from a specific political viewpoint.

That said, I’ve long had my eyes on government in general in Jamaica, and why it so often fails to address problems well. I’ve also long had my eyes on the policing of Jamaica. So, with that in mind, I suggest you just put together your own balance sheet for these two institutional set-ups and see what conclusions you draw, simply on a success: failure ratio. 🙂

What declaring a public state of emergency may reveal about government of the people

I’ve said this before, so please don’t be surprised. I do not ascribe to the commonly-expressed view that Jamaicans do not respect rules: Jamaicans are normally compliant. They respect rules that bind. The evidence that many bring forward to support the argument to the contrary is often partial, at best, and if looked at carefully, often reflects the same group of people behaving a particular way in different places and circumstances. So, for example, most Jamaicans, by an overwhelming majority, respect the rules of the road. The main miscreants are those driving private transport vehicles–taxis and minibuses. The proof of that is everywhere, every day: Most people respect red lights, do not cut in recklessly, do not speed (most of our roads don’t support driving much over 80 km/hour on their straightest sections, and the state of many roads is so dangerous that it would be both dangerous to body and vehicle, and Jamaicans love their vehicles). Most people do not park regardless of obstructions created or signs that indicate parking should not take place. To my mind, ignoring what is the overwhelming evidence is indicative of something people do a lot in Jamaica, which is to leet emotions run even in the face of facts. What I see as the truth is borne out by other data that go beyond what I see with my own eyes. Speed is a major culprit in road accidents, but the mapping of those accidents show that they tend to be on stretches where traffic can flow fast and relatively freely for long stretches–along the north coast–and, for reasons that I cannot fathom, means to control speed either physically or with police acting as deterrents seem to be used rarely. We have few accidents at intersections and we have few instances of vehicles careening off roads.

I cite the issue with traffic for a good reason. It’s where we see masses of people acting in the same general space. When we see congested roads in Jamaica, we often do not see wholesale disregard for rules of the road. Jamaicans do not decide to take over the opposite carriageway, for example, which may be mainly empty. They try to ease the burden of waiting by antisocial things like blocking junctions (a common practice in congested urban areas), but that stops whenever there is control at such points. In other words, most drivers suffer. That suffering reflects some unbelievably low levels of enforcement, the proof of which is the regular amnesty for traffic fines, that tell us that it’s the collecting agents and those who should monitor infractions who have fallen down on the job.

You see the same tolerance in many areas, such as markets and eating places, as well as administrative places (government offices and banks, for example). Few people like waiting unnecessarily. However, when people see ‘fair treatment’, they tend to be more understanding. So, when an institution has ‘single queueing’ say with tickets, people more or less gladly wait their turn. When such methods are not evident, then people revert to ‘only the strong survive’ methods and try to use ‘muscle’ to be served before others. However, in my experience, a lot of peer pressure often stops that being too bad–‘Eh, bredda! Yu nuh see me in front a you?’ People will usually respect what they know to be the reality and respect ‘first come, first served’. Jamaicans do not routinely resort to physical or verbal violence in such situation. Pride and shame kick in fast and most will mutter displeasure, rather than letting that boil over into some physical confrontation. Where that may be different is in places where people feel that ‘life and limb’ are at risk, so we see some hostile behaviour at places like hospitals. But, I don’t recall seeing altercations in restaurants or patty shops, for instance. That contrasts immensely with what I have often seen in the UK and USA, and in other parts of the so-called ‘civilized’ world. We don’t tend to see road rage. Again, the more common sight is suffering (in relative silence).

Some Jamaicans tend to feel that they need to ‘take the law into their own hands’ in the face of some form of social injustice and the offender is often the government or some public agencies. In such cases, we know the common reaction of burning tyres and blocking roads, carrying placards and shouting about ‘Justice’ to any who can hear. We see that, too, in terms of reactions to the police, when it seems they have been heavy-handed. That is when Jamaican tolerance has reached a natural barrier.

The reaction to the police deserves to be looked at separately because it comes in the wake of a long history of abusive behaviour by that arm of the security services. There is little love lost between the police and many average citizens and too many officers are woefully short of good interpersonal skills. I’ll attest to that personally based on several interactions that could have escalated in reaction to an overly-aggressive attitude displayed by a police officer. By contrast, I have seen exemplary behaviour, too, by members of the JCF, which tells me a lot about the inconsistencies in how it develops its work force.

All of this is to say what?

The government yesterday declared a ‘public state of emergency’ for the parish of St. James.The PM ‘declared that the prevailing conditions in St. James met the conditions for [its] imposition’….”We will be going after wanted men, seizing weapons and taking back our communities,” Police Commissioner George Quallo declared in support of the decision to impose the State of Emergency. The PM, in response to a question, said the government had waited this long to declare the State of Public Emergency because it needed to have appropriate resources to make the initiative a success. Furthermore, he said, the administration needed to be assured of public support for the measure before it went ahead with it.

So, here are my concerns:

The ‘prevailing conditions’ had been evident for nigh on two years. In fact, they were so evident that the now-PM had made a pre-election declaration about how his party being elected would bring forth a much-safer Jamaica. What changed after the election?

The police commissioner declaring what the force will do now, suggests they had been doing nothing of the sort beforehand. Waiting for ‘appropriate resources’ makes little sense when two national budgets have been prepared and these resources were not sought as priority spending.

Public support, if really needed, could have been sought by a simple and repeated call from day one of the administration.

I see no evidence that Jamaicans were not willing to see the government take a ‘more aggressive’ approach to murders–on the contrary. So, was the government so bad at reading those somewhat obvious signs? Had it been a matter of real urgency, the matter could even have been put to the people as a referendum motion, or (less fitting, but in keeping with the times), through an online petition.

The feeling I get, is that, like the situation on the roads, where most people want to act in a certain way, but a few want to impose their way of acting on the rest, when they prevail, it seems to some that the general has lost its place to the particular. Now, whether those few are local business interests, criminal interests, or political interests, they are far outnumbered by the rest of the country. So, why was the popular sentiment so hard to discern? Why was more suffering piled on an already suffering nation? It could only be because it’s generally known that Jamaicans are indeed compliant people.

Monthly photographic montage: #January2018 Daylight—teaser

For 2018, I decided to try to follow some daily photographic themes. For the month of January, my focus has been on daylight–not just the sun rising, but often the light of day as night passes away. This is just a foretelling of what to look for at month’s end: I will share a composite picture of the month’s images. Following months with have different daily themes, and I will aim to share each month’s composite.

Here is one of the daily images so far.