Whither tourism? Wither tourism? Some thoughts on both

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Last week, the Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organization caused a few ripples in local consciousness with his chosen words about tourism, that resonated more than a little with the Jamaican location where he was speaking. Quoting from the report made by the Jamaica Information Service, Mr. Taleb Rifai, said:

“We cannot continue to build five-star hotels in three-star communities. This is a very important message we have to keep in mind. We cannot let our visitors live in bubbles; this is not acceptable anymore,”

Several commentators have been somewhat put out by this remark.

My own thoughts were initially some puzzlement–of the ‘Yea, right!’ variety–not least because of the ironic nature of the comment, but also some bewilderment.

Let me deal with the irony, first.

If there’s one thing we know about so-called foreign dignitaries when they visit it’s that they are often made to ‘live in bubbles’. Now, the reasons for that can be many, but they often come down to what gives the best impression of a country and makes most people comfortable in terms of the safety and security of the visitors concerned. At the extreme, such visitors may well be ‘housed’ in the residence of the head of government, or their ambassador (if a national on national business). More normally, they will be found in the ‘finest’ hotels that the country can offer.

Such concerns about safety do not rest only with high-ranking persons, but also with the ordinary visitors, who unfamiliar with a country want to avoid putting him- or herself in harm’s way, unnecessarily. Many countries find ways to deal with this, or at least convince visitors that it is a trivial concern. At a basic level, foreign diplomatic representatives try to warn their citizens of local dangers. Without citing the USA as the model, we can see how the USA, being the source of the bulk of visitors to Jamaica), cautions nationals.

Here is the safety and security advice given by the US Embassy for Jamaica:

I wont judge that for accuracy or otherwise, but leave it merely to indicate how the USA sees the landscape into which its citizens will venture.

They offer some guidance on what is deemed ‘best practice’:

It’s noteworthy to me that the highest risks are flagged as being within all-inclusive resorts. So, if it’s so dangerous inside the ‘bubble’, are we to believe that it’s safer outside?

So, the visiting dignitaries tend to not stay anywhere but in the most-exclusive places, but also visitors are warned that to venture out into the general spaces of the country is riddled with horrors of crime and violence.

Now, we know that when people come to spend their time and money on leisure activities like visiting other countries, they do so with a little more of a cavalier attitude, putting many adverse things down to ‘the experience’ they may gain from foreign travel.

Horror stories come in many forms, and crime may stand as minor compared to some other things such as incomplete lodgings, unsanitary food and lodgings, or things like a lack of activities to make the stay enjoyable. For instance, no matter what one learns about Indian or Mexican culture and history, concerns often focus on ‘Delhi belly’ or Montezuma’s revenge’.

In the search for value for money, the ordinary foreign traveller comes in many shapes and sizes. Unlike the more rarified dignitary visitor. Moreover, the ordinary visitors has to look after him- or herself, not have needs met by hosts seeking to please at almost any cost.

The bewilderment part of my concerns were to think about what tourism has become. If we go back to Mr. Talai’s comment, I was struck by the ‘anymore’. Pardon me for parsing, but that suggests something was alright before. Now, change often does not happen overnight, and if the idea were to signal the need that the tourism industry as it’s manifested say in The Caribbean is in need of overhaul, then the comments make sense only if one puts some time frame of getting from ‘here’ to ‘there’.

My economist mind quickly went to the fact that nothing is costless, and to wonder what the new tourism may look like in its totality–visitor numbers, gross revenue, percent of revenues retained, domestic linkages, new transport investment, etc. I did not have an answer and I noticed that no one else seems to have put forward an answer that could suggest whether the new tourism would be as significant for Jamaica or less than it is now.

I was also bewildered because world tourism is not principally about small countries like Jamaica, but really about major industrial countries in North America, Europe and some of Asia/Australasia.

The UN WTO tell us that 2017 is on its way to a record year. The trend is showing continued demand for travel, after seven consecutive years of growth (unprecedented since the 1960s, according to WTO), projected at well over 1 billion travelers again in 2017.

But, little countries like Jamaica don’t determine world tourism trends, ie what that 1+ billion people want; we’re edging towards 4 million arrivals–that’s less than 1/2% of the world market. What we do is to try to attract as many of those visitors as we can reasonably support and get them to spend as much as possible. But, it’s the markets in North America and Europe that drive what many visitors will find acceptable. In other words, standards of luxury, attractions, mobility, safety, cuisine, and other things are really determined elsewhere, and you would be a rash country to think that by bucking those trends and tastes you will survive very long. Why? Because people can stay at home and get more for their bucks, euros and pounds.

Tourism represented about US$1.5 TRILLION in 2016; 10% of world GDP. But, note, growth in advanced economies (+5%) was more than double that of emerging countries (+2%).

While it’s nice to think about offering a wide and authentic local experience, it’s also fraught with many risks. It’s only a small fraction of visitors who are prepared to just head out and ‘live like locals’. At the best, they will be willing to sample local food and drink, especially if they have some recognition of them already; ie some penetration abroad helps. So, for instance, Jamaican jerk food has an appeal that would surpass other local delights such as cowskin soup, or even our national dish, ackee and saltfish (‘it’s looks like scrambled eggs’). They will also venture to local attractions if safety seems well assured; that assurance isn’t the same for all visitors.

Let’s not fool ourselves about racial perceptions, either, and how a mainly Caucasian set of visitors finds its comfort level in a mass of black or dark people.

But, part of skillful marketing of a destination is to find ways to get local things to be appealing to as wide a group as possible. That’s never ending. However, many visitors will happily default to things they know from home. Hence, the often-heard cries for ‘Where’s McDonalds?’ or ‘Where’s Starbucks?’, just as examples.

Jamaica does well in that it gets some 40+% of visitors repeating their travel to the island.

I wonder what inclusive tourism would look like in countries like Jamaica. Of course, it depends what you deem inclusion to mean–sectors involved, locations involved, people involved, range of countries from which visitors come, and more. Inclusion could also mean what the country can do with what it earns. That’s more than a bit ticklish, not least because most of the players in the business of attracting visitors are private enterprises, who may or may not put much of their revenue into the hands of national governments. Even if they put money into government hands, how much control do they, or could they exert over its use? So, the 30% of tourism revenue that gets retained is to be fought over, either getting more of it to benefit the nation, and/or raising that share to a higher level.

The world has changed much, and technology now allows many more people to participate in activities like tourism with little more capital investment than the home they already own. Ventures like AirBnB can now make many willing home owners into tourism destinations. Jamaica seems to be trying to get on this train. But, what does that look like or do to the overall market? While AirBnB may issue standards, do they stand up to scrutiny and/or match those offered, say, by hotel associations? Happy AirBnB customers, small in total, may not affect perceptions of the destination much, if the bulk of the market remains covered by formal hotels. Would the market be better if either government or a national tourism organization chose to oversee formally a sector such as AirBnB?

But, many Jamaicans, have done with tourism that they do with any revenue-generating activity in the island–latch onto it, most simply by ‘feeding’ on it as sellers of goods and services (call that ‘vending’). It’s style is often the well-tried, rough-and-tumble kind with shaky wooden structures and hoping that people with buy.

Tourism in small economies is often about managing the obvious tension between haves (foreign visitors) and have nots (locals). With few exceptions, such economies can neither match the average wealth of visitors nor do something more than (maybe not much) to manage to regular or season inflows of people that are many times the number of local residents. In such countries, it’s almost unheard of that hotels or lodgings aimed at foreign visitors will be open freely to locals. One doesn’t need to target ‘all-inclusive’ resorts as if they are essentially different from most accommodation for visitors. It can simply be a matter of how to manage people flows. In such economies catering for tourists is part of specialization.

Industrial countries can build tourism on the back of what they have already achieved. Extensive historical interests can be packaged to be more attractive. Medical facilities are generally of a higher standard so will attract business without being touted as a feature of a destination. Special transport isn’t needed because the basic infrastructure is well-developed. Climatic attractions are already part of local cultures, so things like skiing or boating or natural attractions have already a local base that is strong and can be made stronger by foreign visitors, as opposed to be being developed to attract foreign visitors.

I have some thoughts about the sustainability of tourism, which I may discuss separately, but as with inclusion, I know that sustainability can be defined in many different ways. So, while some may routinely think this means the environment, others may thinks it’s about financial viability, for instance. I’m always leery of discussing terms like this without being clear that I’m on the same page as others. I could easily say that a sector is sustainable if a decade from now it is still in the business of making revenue, providing jobs and demanding goods and services from within the country. That goes for any sector, not just something called ‘tourism’.

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What Info Shall/May Be Included in the #NIDS Database? – What the NIDS Bill Now Says

Another helpful set of points by a diligent Susan Goffe on the newly passed Act covering the National Identity Document System (NIDS). Sadly, in my opinion, it points to another set of questions that cannot yet be answered about how the NIDS system will operate.

Right Steps & Poui Trees

Whether you support the proposed National Identification System (NIDS) unreservedly or oppose it absolutely or fall somewhere in between, it would be useful to know what information the NIDS Bill passed on November 21, 2017, allows to be collected and stored in the Database. The list of information is set out in the Third Schedule of the Bill and the current Third Schedule is different in a number of respects, when compared with the original Bill tabled in the House on March 21 this year.

In the original Third Schedule, all information to be collected was mandatory. The current Third Schedule distinguishes between information which will be mandatory and shall by included and other information which may be included, some of which will be voluntarily given if the person being registered so chooses. NIDS Third Schedule heading

Part A of the Third Schedule lists the Biographic Information to be collected, all of…

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Do socio-demographic factors explain high violent crime in the Caribbean?

With due credit to the IADB, I repost a blog post.

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Do socio-demographic factors explain high violent crime in the Caribbean?

by Heather Suttonon November 22, 2017

CARIBBEAN CRIME PREVENTION AND CITIZEN SECURITY

In previous blogs about a recent study on crime in the Caribbean, we find that violent crime is uniquely high in the sub-region, and that the victims are mainly young, low-income males. With the study Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combating Violence with Numbers (executive summary here), we have set out not just to characterize the situation of crime and violence in the Caribbean, but also, try to explain it. And we began by looking at socio-demographic factors:

Age and gender

So, if young males are more likely to be victims and perpetrators of violent crime, then maybe high violent crime in the Caribbean is explained by the high proportion of young males in the population. Figure 1 shows that there is a relationship between the homicide rate and the percentage of the population that is young and male worldwide (Spearman’s Rho = 0.47, P>0.05, n = 145). However, the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region has higher homicide rates than countries in other parts of the world, even with the same levels of young male populations.

Figure 1 -Percentage of the population young and male versus national homicide rates –

Source: Sutton and Ruprah 2017 using homicide data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime data and United Nations population data (2010).

Percent Urban and GDP growth

Given that urban areas have higher rates of victimization, we might imagine that countries with higher percentages of the population in urban areas would have higher crime rates. Similarly, we could theorize that increased wealth of a country (GDP growth) would lead a country to have lower crime rates. However, figures 2 and 3 show that Latin America and the Caribbean continue to stand out with higher levels of homicide than other countries with similarly urbanized populations and GDP growth rates. This suggests that the region is still more violent than it should be for the level of economic growth and age, gender, and urban composition of the population.

Figure 2- Percentage of the population that is urban versus national homicide rates

Sources: Sutton and Ruprah 2017 using data from the World Bank, World Development Indicators; and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime homicide data (2012).

Figure 3 – GDP growth versus national homicide rates

Sources: Sutton and Ruprah 2017 using data from the World Bank, World Development Indicators; and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime homicide data (2012).

But if these factors don’t completely explain the uniquely high levels of violent crime in the Caribbean, what does? Stay tuned for future blogs that will address this question focusing on tolerance of violence in the home, at-risk youth, neighbourhood characteristics, gangs, guns, and criminal justice institutions.

About the author:

Heather Sutton is an IDB consultant in Citizen Security. She is the Research Coordinator for several IDB projects on crime and violence in the Caribbean involving victimization surveys and surveys on Violence Against Women. Before coming to the IDB, Heather worked as a researcher, project manager and activist on the subjects of public safety, armed violence and gun control for the Brazilian NGO Instituto Sou da Paz. She holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a BA in International Affairs from Colorado University.

Read more blogs from Heather Sutton’s Crime and Violence series:

Is Crime in the Caribbean Unique?

What is missing from police crime statistics?

Who is most likely to be a victim of crime in the Caribbean?

Don’t believe your eyes: a short golfing story

When Conrad found the golf cart sitting by the edge of the hill, he was glad that he need not walk back to the clubhouse. He didn’t ask himself why it was there and who may be using it. It was hot and the tropical humidity was making him more tired than he had anticipated. He was also getting dehydrated.

He sat in the cart and pressed the accelerator. Why there was no beep to indicate it was in reverse may remain a mystery, as the cart flew backward over the hill.

The boys taking a short cut across the course, who found the man’s body, days after, looked at his score card and thought: ‘This golf is a cruel game.’ Conrad had just scored 10 on a par 3. That seemed justification enough to take his own life, they thought. 🙂

Identity crisis? Some personal reflections on a national identity document system

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I like the idea of a national identity document (NID). My reasons for being a skeptic about NID proposals for Jamaica are more about competence and performance than principle, though there are issues of principles such as privacy that I do not think are as clear-cut as some would wish to suggest. My issues with competence is based on history: poor implementation has been a constant knock against Jamaica for much of its post-independence life. They also are based on what I see as a lack of preparation in the sense that things like integration of data don’t need a NID program to get going, but if they’ve waited on a NID program a lot of inefficiency and redundancy has been cemented into processes. I think there’s not enough evidence that the bases to which the NID may be tied have been made strong enough so far. My worry is that NIDs is a top-down approach, rather than a bottom-up one, and I find it hard to see how that approach will be successful. The image I have in my head is placing a heavy table top on legs that are not well-built; toppling over is more likely.

Current behaviour reflects some of these inefficiencies and redundancies, eg, the need for a traffic ticket amnesty rests on the simple gap between police records of fines issued and tax records of fines paid and that the gap is not visible in real-time so that the status of any road user who is transgressing is flagged immediately to the police officer who has noted the transgression. So, fines have no real bite. People know and understand that gap and naturally exploit it. I had a recent experience where the records of a transaction with the Customs authorities was not reflected automatically in the database at the Tax Administration, which required more person-hours in getting that updated. If time is money, then Jamaica is letting it dribble away. But, it’s not just ordinary citizens, but also those who operate the systems, which are known to be flawed, but still to them and are happy with that because it preserves their jobs.

So, my issues with competence and performance also go to why our economy performs poorly, how our productivity is impaired and why we do things that are more likely to make us poorer than we otherwise should be.

I’ve never lived anywhere where I’ve had to have a NID, though I’ve travelled to many places that had one, especially in Europe. I remember, from my first trip to France in the mid-1960s, how I was often fascinated on such travels to see people reach into wallets and purses to pull out a NID card (in France, carte nationale d’identité), often to prove who they were for some transaction, or engagement with a government official, including the police. I recall the near panic a friend had when he was not able to find his NID. Such cards could often be used for travel within the European Union, making real the notion of a borderless union. All of that spoke to an orderliness of affairs and uniformity that was good. In the UK, there was no such thing during my time there: we had various forms of ID, depending on age and circumstance, such as driver’s licences, passports, National Insurance numbers, National Health Service cards, each of which were the best available at the time, but only the passport had a picture. However, most things in life could be done without the need to show any of these, but to get certain services, one of them was likely to be necessary. Yet, funnily, to move through life one also did not have to prove without doubt who one was. Often, systems were self-validating: you exist in some official database already, therefore you are. So, I went from primary school to the world of work after university without having to prove unequivocally who I was. The only time I stumbled was when I had to prove what I was, and I thought I was British, but was not, according to the official documentation.

My story is a simple one, which I’ve told before. Born in the 1950s, I was British because Jamaica was a colony, part of The British Empire. I left Jamaica in 1961 with that status. Jamaica became independent in 1962, and my parents took steps to take Jamaican status (passport, mainly); they had rights to retain their British passports/citizenship at the time (and for several years after). I went with the flow, being a minor. I know of my British status, not least because I had travelled to England on my father’s passport. But, as happens, I felt some affinity to Britain as I was living there. No big thing, for a child. As I grew I was eligible for things British, including temporary overseas travel documents and importantly for me, being included in squads for national sporting representation. Fast forward.

I was offered a job at the Bank of England, for which one had to be a UK citizen. That’s when the penny dropped. Hastily, I had to regain my British status. No big deal, as I still was within whatever time limit existed for this, apart from a few trips to Somerset House to sign and seal the deal.

But, I knew I was also Jamaican, and to prove that I applied for and got a Jamaican passport through the High Commission in London. Therein lay the seeds of problems to come.

All my life, I had not needed to hang onto Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am); I existed and was flesh and blood and had been part of activities that were real. I was also Dennis Jones (as my parents wrote my name of every document I could read); all of my documents showed me with that spelling, including my Jamaican passport. But…Deep in some official vault was the other me…the real me, whom I did not know…Denis Jones. Fast forward, again.

I was living in the USA and working in Washington DC. My Jamaican passport needed renewing. The system now required proof of my existence, through my birth certificate. I got the document from my mother and sent it forward. Trouble! That document was NOT my birth certificate–it was what Jamaicans called a ‘birth paper’, merely registering the fact, but not the official certificate, AND it showed my name with one N not two. No real problem, though. I contacted the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) and they provided me with a computer-generated certificate, with 6 copies. Wow! Good to go. New, crisp, Jamaican passport, but with my name now with one N (remember the old one had two Ns).

Life moved on smoothly, until, I had to come back to Jamaica to live a few years ago and had to gain status here. Now, the two-headed hydra of the two Denis/Dennis reared its dreaded head. I was no longer who I thought I was! 99.9 percent of my life, as proved by documents and transactions was at ‘Dennis’, but Jamaica would have none of it. I was officially ‘Denis’ here, and so it must be. Well, sort of. I got a bank account (based on my birth certificate), then my TRN and from that my driver’s licence, and accepted the new official ‘me’, for Jamaican purposes. But, I could still go around as the other me, because my British passport proved me to be me, with two Ns. Fast forward, again.

I had to resolve the problem. Why? My good wife (as opposed to?) was worried that one of me would run into a problem. So, I re-engaged RGD and went through the simple process of having my name changed by deed poll. I am now officially ‘Dennis Jones’ for all Jamaican purposes (and also known as ‘Denis Jones’, but never mind him). My TRN was updated and from that my driver’s licence, so I was good to go, for most purposes.

I still have a few Jamaican documents that have me as ‘Denis’ because Jamaica also wants me to prove that I have a certain address so to make the simple change I have to do what I cannot do, which is prove where I live. Why? I moved. Because I am a creature of the Internet and all my bills come to be online, that doesn’t matter to my transactions, which go on in ‘the Cloud’ and nothing physically or actually comes to be at my place of abode. Utility bills are in my wife’s name. So, for Jamaican purposes I seem like a homeless person. The fact that all of my overseas financial information are linked to my new address matters not in Jamaica, where ‘rules are rules’. So, my voter’s ID needs to be updated, but… My Digicel and Scotiabank accounts, too, but… I don’t let that hamper me, as I use my phone and play with the banking system to my heart’s content without changing address for them.

I know I’m real!

Back in the day, when manual systems were king, a NID was important; with technological advances, we now know that the storage of data electronically is what is important. You are your data, including your biometric information. However, that is also one of the things that scares many people.

As I started writing, I noted that one of the ‘poster boys’ of NIDs, Estonia, is going through a security scare with its system having experienced a security breach that has compromised maybe 750,000 NID holders. Being ‘vulnerable to identity theft’ is not what makes people feel comfortable. Note the focus of the Estonian PM, Jüri Ratas, in a statement:

“The functioning of an e-state is based on trust and the state cannot afford identity theft happening to the owner of an Estonian ID card. As far as we currently know, there has been no instances of e-identity theft, but the threat assessment of the Police and Border Guard Board and the Information System Authority indicates that this threat has become real. By blocking the certificates of the ID cards at risk, the state is ensuring the safety of the ID card.”

The fault laying with the manufacturer of the chip is not the sort of thing that will make citizens any more at ease. So, when the Jamaican government makes the following claim, people will remain to be assured, especially as we do not yet have in place Acts on data protection and data sharing.

But I want to think about some of the other claims.

Does that ONLY exist with a NID? It’s interesting to contemplate that your actual existence is somehow being denied because of the absence of a NID. Surely, that right flows from the day you are born and that fact is registered? Isn’t that when your identity comes into force?

I wont pretend that unique identifiers are not important.

I wont go much further into the things that I think can go wrong in a country that has strong record of finding ways around many seemingly robust systems. Jamaicans have shown an astonishing knack for making Goodhart’s Law (named after Prof. Charles Goodhart, who was criticising UK monetary policy) come true:  “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Put differently, in the so-called Lucas critique, named for Robert Lucas’s work on macroeconomic policymaking, argues that it is naive to try to predict the effects of a change in economic policy entirely on the basis of relationships observed in historical data, especially highly aggregated historical data. More simply, don’t expect your expected outcome to materialise. People adapt and anticipate.

One reason why NIDs work well in some countries is simply due to trust in institutions and decision-makers. Jamaican institutions and decision-makers are low on that trust ‘index’. Many would feel more at ease if they had seen clearly that trust being built to a high level for a good while.

Jamaica’s future? National reality TV set

For some time, my whimsical side has been dominating when thinking of ways to get out of the mire that is much of Jamaican daily life. In short, the economic and social Utopia that could and should have been ours, if we had had governments that did not ‘run with it’ but focused on building a vibrant and equitable society, could still be ours but by seeing something completely different for ourselves. Hold your breath. Jamaica is one big reality TV show, and if we embrace that, we could be shooting for the stars in no time. Now, I admit, it’s a wild idea that is going through my head but bear with me. Almost every day things happen on this island that seem too unreal to be true. But, in Jamaica, these seeming unrealities are real: they are our daily bread. What makes me laugh more is that we have people doing what they think are serious things but it’s just a scene in a farce. Let me give you a real and present example.

Yesterday evening, on our daily radio news and current affairs show, Beyond The Headlines, host Dionne Jackson-Miller was dealing with the latest in Jamaican crime horror: men dressed as police and driving a car with flashing blue lights had stopped and robbed a motorist on Sunday evening on East Kings House Road. Now, I’m not making light of the crime and the horror scenario that faces us if this becomes a trend. I am going to make light of how one of our ‘finest’, a police spokeswoman, saw the solution for the average motorist who may fall foul of this new scam. The officer suggested that, if the fake police signaled for a motorist to pull over, then various options should be tried, if one believes the police to be fake. Her preferred option was to somehow indicate to the cops that you were going to drive on to the nearest police station. Her assertion seemed to be that if these were real cops, they would understand and follow dutifully to then press the charges, and (I presume), if they were fake, they would hightail it instead of walking into a possible arrest. What could possibly go wrong? Well, it was clear that the lady did not have a clear idea of what she was really suggesting. Now, I will date myself by saying my mind rolled straight to a scene from the days of silent movies, from the Keystone Cops.

Dionne saw problems straight away and asked how the real police would know that the motorist had this plan and was not seeking to flee the scene. Wait for it! The police lady suggested signaling to any oncoming police car or other bystander that this was a ploy to go to a station. I presume the implication is that you carry a placard in your car that you can raise and wave out of the window reading ‘I’m heading to a police station. Don’t shoot!’ Well, that could be tricky to manage on a busy afternoon in Kingston, or if one were driving through Trelawny, where the likelihood of seeing another police officer or passing car is as rare as seeing an elephant knitting on the side of the road. Her other suggestion, when DJM queried the realism of the first offer, was to call 119 to alert police central command that you were ‘bringing in’ some police officers. Well, what I have heard of the responsiveness of that service is filed under ‘Don’t do this if your life depends on it’. The silent guffaws that could be heard on the radio set were deafening. But, the spokeswoman wasn’t done: she also suggested to use the StayAlert app. At that point, I had to pull false teeth out of the chicken foot soup that I was just drinking. Don’t worry about someone picking up the phone, just jump on the Internet superhighway. I’ve never used the app without data, but I hope it’s possible, because if not…

Now, I’ve presented these answers as if they came smoothly. They did not. They came after what seemed like a decade of reflection.

Did the officer really understand that if the fake cops were fake that this ruse would not work? Did she realise that real cops would be faced with the choice of apprehend more forcefully or apprehend much more forcefully. Maybe, what we need is a national roll-out of CB radios so that every motorist could speak over a dedicated channel to the police central command to report incidents.

Now, Jamaican police have earned a reputation for not being the most friendly and courteous and even been labeled in various ways for extrajudicial killings, so I presume that somehow the collective consciousness of society will be wiped clean of this when the suggested ruses are tried.

Somehow, I don’t see many motorists trying this. So, really what to do? I suspect that more suggestions will follow from both the JCF (after more reflection) or from the travelling public.

But, that was just a taster of what goes on for daily life. It’s the stuff that it’s hard to script, yet it gets trotted out every day. So, here’s my suggestion.

We need to revamp our tourism product and turn the whole country over to any and every television company that wants to come and film daily life in Jamaica, and the kicker (risky though it may be) will be to offer participation in these real-life events. So, we could have Minnie from Minnesota being taken on a drive so that she could be stopped and searched by Jamaican police. Or, we could have Orville from Orlando getting into an argument with a vendor in Coronation Market, and dealing with that on the fly. (We could have people prepped with audio so that they could get instant translations from Patois, for those tricky moments, that just don’t crop up in Peoria, such as ‘Let be beat some sense inna dis r*** c**** Hamerikan!’) We could offer attractive packages that had 3 days of sun and sand, followed by 3 days of ‘living the Jamaican life’, and one day of RR before heading back home (assuming nothing had gone wrong and a court date was added to the schedule.) These trips would have thrills and spills and authenticity aplenty.

Now, this may not be everyone’s idea of getting to know a country, but why not give it a try with some pilots in a few of our more interesting communities? We need to get buy-in from many agencies, but I’m sure that once they see the PR, job and income opportunities of being seen as part of rebuilding of Jamaica, they’d be falling over each other to sign up first. Taxi drivers (red plate or robots) with live audio and visual? ‘Small up yourself, sah! Road!’ The evening rush hour bus ride from Half Way Tree to Spanish Town? ‘Why you cock up you foot pon di seat an you see me a look siddung beside you?’ Riding at speed without a helmet (with or without flip-flops) from Montego Bay to Negril, with a stop at Rick’s Cafe? The options are almost limitless. Every community has something to offer. Instead of bucolic stuff like rafting on the Rio Grande, or the limited thrills of climbing Dunn’s River Falls or bobsleighing at Mystic Mountain, we could offer ‘being frisked in a ZOSO’. Can’t you see the excitement of people’s faces, knowing that this would be real, but only temporary?

Imagine: Selfies with squaddies. Wouldn’t that make friends want to fly to Jamaica in a heartbeat?

I’m not going to try to figure out how all of this would work and how it would be priced and all the insurance liability and diplomatic incidents to anticipate. But, our not-so-humdrum life would be a thrill-a-minute for anyone like Olaf from Oslo, coming from the deep midwinter of only four hours of daylight in Norway in December, to ‘let’s drive through potholes in St. Mary’, with warmth and the magic of roadside food along the way.

It’s a suggestion. If you think there’s a better way to get most of Jamaica wanting to be part of the solution let me suggest you come up with your own idea. I am going to draft a few letters to HBO and Netflix to use Jamaica as the setting for a series of reality series.

If you see me sipping gin and coconut water in Port Antonio sometime soon, remember, you had your chance to join me. 🙂

Not win-win, but win-loss: Some thoughts on St. Mary SE By-Election

JLP won and PNP lost support, in St. Mary SE, with the total vote increasing substantially, as many new voters were on the voting roll. The tiny margin for PNP from the 2016 general election turned into a near-1000 vote victory for JLP, meaning the approval gap between the parties widened massively in this seat.

JLP is no longer the party of Seaga, and is molding itself clearly in another image—maybe, it’s too early to say it’s the party of Holness, but he is developing a face that is markedly different. Part of that difference relates to how the leader and his party embrace communications, especially through social media, in a way that its main rival is still struggling to match. It’s a face that is in stark contrast to the (outdated and somewhat self-denying) stance taken by PNP—that party has badly abandoned its socialist roots–in terms of its being a voice of the people–a trend that was clearly evident by some of the arrogant disregard show for public opinion and governance of public money during several of its past tenures in government. (That’s beside the fact that the party presided well over an IMF program; it showed scant regard for good financial governance in many other areas.)

PNP often talked about ‘joined-up government’, yet displayed some of the most disorganized control of public affairs during the last administration. But, talk is cheap! Wasting money, isn’t. That’s maybe a highbrow observation, but more ‘low brow’ would be the fact that PNP didn’t really empathize that despite the macroeconomic success of the IMF program, there were many microeconomic disasters going on in people’s lives. The recently released 2015 poverty statistics make that clearer. There was much pain for the wider economic gain. That’s not uncommon, but little acknowledgement of it is really damaging, politically. It’s not enough for a political leader to say how she feels inflation, when most of life’s expenses are covered by the State. The referendum on PNP was clear from the 2016 general election, reinforced by recent local elections, and then stamped again in St. Mary. That is more significant, given the relatively high turnout (over 50%), in a seat where votes clearly mattered. (The ‘goings on’ in the garrison seats in St. Andrew tell us little about wider political sentiments, especially with the low voter turnout to ‘rubber stamp’ PNP candidates. One problem with just listening to the faithful is that you hear the song that you are playing yourself 🙂 )

JLP sensed this seething discontent (and it was not deeply-hidden) going into the 2016 election and fed on it with the promise of tax breaks. Despite its many arithmetic flaws, that promise of giveaways and easing of financial burdens resonated loudly.

PNP kept shooting itself in its own foot in St. Mary–most glaringly with its selection of a candidate whose credentials seemed to have been vetted by an adolescent intern, more intent on posting on Snapchat than checking for the potential damage that lay in the person’s resume. But, it also did its own bad pedicures with the way it handled candidate selections in the two St. Andrew by-election seats, the feud of one still simmering between Brown-Burke and Smith-Facey well into By-Election Day.

As an Opposition, the current PNP shows itself offering little of substance and with few resources to back any promises is in serious danger of making itself worse that irrelevant.

Put differently, a party with a one-seat majority in Parliament acted as if it had won a complete landslide. That’s because the Opposition has been toothless in words and deeds.

You wan’ breadfruit? Roas’ or fry?

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Among the many popular songs and dances in Jamaica is the ‘breadfruit’ song. Like many things in Jamaican life, it’s about a series of ‘this or that’ choices—we’re not big on the deep nuances—black or white covers most views. That goes too for politics, where the choice is green or orange, or in terms of voting symbols, head or bell. Now, I won’t pretend to having been brought up by nuns or having to live a cloistered life, so for me the choice between head or bell is really about more of the same just called differently. If you don’t know what I mean, I suggest you go into a men’s locker room and rummage around with the players and I think you will *see* what I’m talking about.

Let’s get something crystal clear: Jamaicans do not go to the polls weighed down by policy choices between candidates or even parties. It’s more about what’s on the menu: curry goat and rice (maybe, white or rice and peas); fried chicken and curry gravy, with rice and peas; maybe, some soup—mannish water or red peas. There! Voting issues resolved. Now, that is not a cynical glance at what is a known piece of corrupt practice, just *on the ground* observations of what’s left after political activists have passed ‘this way’.

Now, three by-elections are due to be held on October 30, but you may be forgiven for thinking only one is being held—in St. Mary SE. Let’s humour the Electoral Commission and just focus on that one seat, a moment.

All was going swimmingly with a little bit of political fighting about why and when a road improvement project needed to be approved and gotten underway. Pork! Food! Then, for reasons that could well be down to an excess of *white spirit*, a little administrative oversight got into the picture, as the PNP candidate was found to be a non-Jamaican and to boot a citizen of two other countries. Yes, yes, they’re both Commonwealth and that means they are not necessarily ‘foreign’ in the way that the British reconfigured The Empire, like the EU but without Maastricht Convention and certainly no visa-free entry between the countries. So, along came Shane, call me ‘Sugar’, Alexis, aka ‘the man who’s Canadian, Grenadian, but not Jamaican (I can’t take time to line up to do that), ready to serve you, faithfully’. Think about that and if you have doubts about the ‘faithfully’ part check out the Yello Pages for the PNP’s National Executive. If I did not know better, I’d think the candidacy paperwork had been entrusted to an intern, who scarperred at 4pm to go get a smoothie and head off to a yoga class, yelling ‘I’ll do it the morning!’

Now, all eyes are on citizenship issues, or the fact that a non-Jamaican could…just could…end up as the head of government in Jamaican. Oh, Canada! Without going too far down the road of possibilities, I just hope that if Seamus O’Alexagoran gets elected that Justintime Truethough doesn’t get an invite to Kingston and create an embarrassment of our PM singing ‘Oh, Canada’ with hand on heart and being silent when ‘Jamaica, Land We Love’ is played.

All eyes have turned to matters other than electoral issues in St. Mary to the how and why of this rather big faux pas (easy to understand if you are from Canada?). But, it’s a distraction, PNP diehards yell. Oh, yeah?

That paid ad by the man’s party tells you distractions are rife. 🤔 So distracting that the media needed to be informed that ‘citizenship soon come’ (see Gleaner report, Alexis submits citizenship application). C’mon, man!

Well, the election was never going to be about the head or the heart, but about the head and the bell. But, wait! It may now be about the head and the…foot. This latest piece of political theatre was…I don’t have the words…*ankling* for attention?…getting a firm *toehold* in the area…doing real *legwork*? I really don’t know.

But this kind of *foota hype* isn’t new, and barefoot (or feet in the water, to be exact) electioneering was already a thing. But, as some commentators noted, walking IN water is not as extraordinary as walking ON water.

My father is from SE St. Mary and I’ve an aunt who came back from England to resume her life there. I know from a long time ago how bad roads, access to electricity and water, have been and still are in that area. Dealing with it, as so many Jamaicans still do, is part of our national resilience. But, politicians love to promise and then fly away after elections–though some have been using helicopters to get into the area (how convenient!). Just, don’t forget about the people and the promises after October 30. Otherwise, it may be a big foot up the jacksy that will send bells ringing in more than a few heads. 😦img_1823

Woe is me! Shane and ‘scandal’ in the family

In a crude attempt at damage control, the PNP spin machine whirred so far yesterday that it made itself dizzy. Within 24 hours of Dr. Alexis indicating on RJR that he had no immediate plans to address his Jamaican citizenship issue, his party issued a statement:

“Dr Alexis was born in Canada and has been residing in Jamaica since age two. Having been granted permanent residency since 1987, he is married to a Jamaican and lives here with his family and will formalise his Jamaican citizenship immediately,”

Now, I won’t get into how you can formalise something that doesn’t exist even informally.

But, the spin masters were taking things from 33 1/3 rpm to 78 in a quick turn when they posted on Twitter:

I’ve used screenshots because I had a feeling the post would disappear.

As you can see, these hasty efforts to ‘wash’ image looked scruffy and mismanaged. You only have to ask where is ‘St. Marry’? to get to an important question. Who, with any sense, is overseeing this set of manouevres?

That question goes deeper.

How can a well-educated and seemingly bright and intelligent person as Dr. Alexis get snared in a web of such seeming incompetence?

You have to answer that to understand how and why the obvious embarrassment of a candidate who was not a Jamaican citizen was not seen and addressed (at least by starting the process of ‘formalisation’) from before he was rolled out in August?

Moreover, with PNP having stressed that the candidate was duly nominated and faced no legal problem standing as a Commonwealth, why the rush now to get citizenship?

Guess when you buck your toe on one rock, bucking it on another seems less painful 🤔😩🙄

To be, or not to be, that is the question: Citizenship raises its head

Dr. Shane Alexis, PNP candidate for the upcoming by-election in St. Mary SE, has found himself in a firestorm over his citizenship. It’s on public record that he was born in Canada, and is a citizen of that country. According to his testimonies, yesterday, on RJR, he was born there while his Jamaican mother was there as a doctor. He came to Jamaica as a child and did much the same as many children in Jamaica, in terms of schooling. He gained his undergraduate degree from UWI, then went on a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba, and has since worked long and hard in Jamaica’s health sector. On that basis, few would think that there are issues about his commitment to Jamaica. However, his actions opened questions about that by the seemingly simple fact that he has chosen to not become a Jamaican citizen. In his answers on why he had not done that, he suggested that it was mainly a matter of time—he said he did not have opportunities to take a day off and stand in line to go through the processes. Sadly, that argument seems a little weak given the amount of ‘days off’ he has taken to be able to campaign, since his selection by the PNP. So, for many people the questions are not complicated:

  • Does Dr. Alexis want to be a Jamaican citizen?
  • If he wants to be a Jamaican citizen, why has he done nothing to get that process started?
  • If PNP officials did not think Dr. Alexis’ citizenship was an issue, why did they think that?
  • If PNP officials thought lack of Jamaican citizenship was an issue, why was the potential candidate not urged to start the process of applying for citizenship as soon as he was selected? (Depending on the countries involved, the process of obtaining another country’s citizenship may or may not be simple, but usually does take time, in the simplest of circumstances, including the need to obtain or confirm documentation from the country of current citizenship.)

But, Dr. Alexis might have compounded his inaction on Jamaican citizenship, because it’s reported that he has a Grenadian passport. So, he stands for election not as a Jamaican citizen, but as a citizen of two other countries, both in The British Commonwealth.

But, let’s be clear. Our Constitution allows Commonwealth citizens to both vote in elections in Jamaica and stand for elected offices in Jamaica. So, Dr. Alexis’ eligibility is not at issue.

But, his situation—being classed as a foreign citizen (even from a friendly, likable and liked Commonwealth partner like Canada), standing for office, and never having sought Jamaican citizenship—opens up potential issues in the eyes of many Jamaicans.

That he does not have Jamaican citizenship was seized upon by the JLP—ironically, by Daryl Vaz, who himself had issues previously about his citizenship and eligibility for a seat in parliament because he was a dual Jamaican-US citizen.

Mr. Vaz did what was not surprising in seizing the moment to seek to weaken the credentials of a political opponent. He pointed to the series of inactions that led to this situation, including not seeking to become a naturalized citizen, with Jamaican mother and Jamaican wife on his side. Vaz says he sees this as a ‘moral’ not a ‘legal’ issue, claiming PNP is being ‘hypocritical’.

Some commented yesterday that this was only brought up after nomination day on October 9. Well, that’s no surprise: it only becomes a matter to throw out there once nominations are in. There would have been little political mileage to gain from raising this while campaigning was going on but Dr. Alexis was not duly nominated. Whether one is a good card player or not, it makes little sense to expose the cards in one’s hand before they need to be played.

PNP officials suggested that they knew about the citizenship situation at the time of Dr. Alexis’ selection but did not see that it was a problem.

The episode raises many more questions than there are answers, at this stage—something not so unfamiliar in Jamaica.

It would be naive to think that some would not see opportunities for mischief-making in this situation, or to beg questions about how past actions can be re-interpreted, in light of certain facts. For instance, Dr. Alexis’ choice of red, instead of orange, can look odd, given that the national flag of the country whose citizenship he carries is also red. That red is also a colour of choice for PNP may or may not seem relevant to some.

Personally, I think it was mightily ironic that Jamaica’s by-election nomination day, October 9, was also Canada’s Thanksgiving Day.

That nobody thought that would make a few people look like turkeys tells me that I am doing well to stay far from politics, if the lights of oncoming trains are thought to be those on Santa’s sleigh bringing presents. 🙂

All of this may be nothing more than a storm in a teacup—and the puns that may follow because PNP decide to dub its candidate ‘Sugar’ are too many to resist. Those who want to sir things up can go ahead, at least for the customary nine-days of wonderment.

Some, like me, will wonder whether those running political campaigns have their eyes on the right moving pieces.

Of course, Dr. Alexis could announce today that he has started the process of becoming a Jamaican citizen. Then, he could be made to look like a political opportunist, who’s only taking such a step to try to bolster a weakening position. Rock and a hard place?

It’s all well and good for Dr. Alexis to argue for a change of Jamaican politics:

But, we’re not there, yet. In light of that, forewarned is forearmed. Take care of business! Don’t be surprised by the obvious, eh.

Some people have started to criticize parliamentarians for not having resolved various citizenship issues that have arisen over who can or cannot stand for political office. As I wrote last week, when talking about revealed preferences, this has clearly not been a priority for the government of the day. One can speculate about why. Reasons that seem obvious to me include the not trivial concern about what ‘resolving’ certain citizenship issues may mean for possible ideas for expanding the role of the diaspora. Seen with that is mind, certain issues become more complicated as we considered who may be seen as a Jamaican, including how many generations removed may be acceptable to those Jamaicans living on the island and those Jamaicans and their offspring living overseas.