Productivity problems in Jamaica—Jamaica Observer article

I did some more thinking about low productivity in Jamaica, which I think is one of our grave persistent socioeconomic problems. Others have been pondering this, recently, and I was spurred by two commentaries last week. On May 6, Delroy Warmington in a Gleaner article ‘Growth: No more excuses, Mr. Holness’ took the government to task for its failure to produce faster growth in Jamaica—it’s struggling to exceed 2 percent a year against a so-called ‘aspirational’ target of #5in4 (ie 5 percent a year within 4 years). One of his points was that ‘Productivity is the elixir for the economy. I couldn’t agree more. On the same day, Everton Pryce was also on the productivity trail in the Observer, ‘Productivity and the need for political action‘. Mr. Pryce noted that ‘Part of the problem, perhaps, is that there is no sure way to fix our sluggish productivity, hence it is not given the mega political and media attention it needs.’ 

What’s really of concern to me is that this problem has been evident and well-documented for most of the last half-century, yet its real costs haven’t been understood by the vast majority of the country, in part because wealth transfers from abroad (foreign loans and grants and remittances) have helped us not have to recognise how we’ve been impoverishing ourselves.

My thoughts led to a longish article, that was published today in the Observer, Productivity problems in Jamaica, which I reproduce below.

Productivity problems in Jamaica

BY DENNIS JONES

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Jamaican sugar cane workers in the field. 

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“Productivity is an economic measure of output per unit of input. Inputs include labour and capital, while output is typically measured in revenues and other gross domestic product (GDP) components such as business inventories.”

While we should be concerned about total productivity, we spend more time on trying to understand why the labour component performs how it does, because usually that is the part over which a government and individuals have greater control.

What two recent commentators have flagged is that without improving that, we are doomed to fail, and because governments have put raising productivity as a low concern, they have doomed Jamaica to decades of poverty or, being more generous, decades of being poorer than we should be. That can be seen more easily in a few statistics of trends over the past 40-50 years.

Jamaica Productivity Centre reported that since the early-1970s, Jamaican labour productivity has declined an average of nearly 1.5 per cent a year, meaning the average Jamaican worker has become progressively contributing less to national economic wealth over the past 40-plus years.

Unit labour cost grew by about 0.5 per cent a year over the period from the mid-1970s through the mid-2000s. This increase was, however, not caused by wage increases, since real wages declined on average by 1.25 per cent a year.

Still, the most damning statistic and, perhaps, one which sums up the whole issue of productivity in Jamaica is the one which shows that the combined productivity of Jamaica’s resources (that is labour, capital, energy and other inputs) declined by an average annual rate of 1.75 per cent over the same period.

These developments do not have one simple cause. One could argue, plausibly, that Jamaica has never recovered from the loss of higher-quality labour of working age as a result of mass emigration — mainly to the UK, USA and Canada — from the late-1940s through to the early-1970s.

 On top of that, it’s known that Jamaica struggles to retain its best-trained people after they graduate from tertiary studies. A study conducted by the World Bank found that roughly 85 per cent of its tertiary-level graduates migrate to countries such as the US, UK, Canada, and other developed countries.

Finally, the supply of educated people is relatively poor, and the Ministry of Education has acknowledged the dearth of ‘quality’ secondary school places available, both in terms of actual spaces as well as quality of teaching.

The Global Youth Development Index (YDI), an initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, ranks 183 countries according to the prospects of young people in employment, education, health, civic, and political spheres.

Looking at 18 indicators, including literacy and mental disorder rates, financial inclusion and voter engagement, the index both showcases the best-performing countries and serves as a warning light for low-scoring countries.

The top-performing Caribbean countries are Barbados (28), Jamaica (46), The Bahamas (67), Antigua and Barbuda (72), and Grenada (73).

For context, the top 10 countries, with the exception of Australia and Japan, are from Europe. The 10 lowest-ranked countries are all from sub-Saharan Africa: The top 10 are: Germany (1), Denmark (2), Australia (3), Switzerland (4), United Kingdom (5), Netherlands (6), Austria (7), Luxembourg (8), Portugal (9), Japan (10).

The top 10 Commonwealth member countries are: Australia (3), United Kingdom (4), New Zealand (11), Canada (14), Malta (20), Barbados (28), Brunei (31), Sri Lanka (31), Malaysia (34), and Cyprus (38).

So, on various measures, Jamaica is way down the pack in terms of preparing its young people to compete on the world educational stage.

What these have resulted in is the fact that real GDP per capita in the mid-1970s was greater than it was in the late-2000s. At the same time, Jamaican workers have become poorer in real terms. So, the notion that many often observe that our parents seemed to have managed better on relatively “less money” than we earned appears true.

A recent World Bank overview http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/jamaica/overview noted Jamaica is “one of the slowest growing developing countries in the world”.

Put together, those numbers mean that the average worker is producing less each year and costing more in real terms to do that, so the only way that the average Jamaican will be better off is through a massive redistribution of income. We are not doing much to make the country wealthier.

Of course, there is no quick fix for this. While many Jamaicans lament the country for having poor productivity, I’m not sure if people understand what is wrong with how our country works and how things can change to give us higher productivity and faster growth.

The broad solutions requires creating a much better national workforce than exists at the moment.

Simply put, we need to invest in people — as the IDB has pointed out. If we don’t do that, and we want to grow, then we must accept the need to import that better workforce. This is what many dynamic economies have had to do.

A better-educated workforce is part of a long-term solution. We don’t have enough people who are well-enough educated to more easily use the widening range of technology that can take any country higher up the growth ladder. Moreover, we have an economy with a poor mix of skills to give us faster growth.

Dennis Chung, then the CEO of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, noted in the December 2017 ‘Fixing Jamaica’s labour productivity problem’ the need to train more technical people.

But, in the short term, we need to make the current workforce do a much better set of jobs than they do now. What that means in many instances is that the interaction of workers and their production has to be much better — simply put, we need to get better performance from everybody every day.

For some, that could be as simple as understanding that time is money and eliminating all the time-wasting activities that go on daily.

The short-term fix also means employers and workers need to understand better how they can positively and negatively affect those who depend on their services. Let’s call this better customer service.

We don’t need to list all the complaints about poor customer service —they are legion and their recurrence tells us about poor management as well as about poor worker attitudes. If some of these attitudes are really about ‘job preservation’, they often turn out to be ‘job destroying’ tactics.

Poor customer service creates a drag on the performance of the enterprise directly and on the performance of the customer directly and indirectly. For instance, a customer spending time trying to resolve poor service is taken away from performing other tasks. As someone noted on Twitter this week, arguing with a rude Dominos pizza operative has many bad outcomes, not least a potential sale that was lost, but also a customer who may never return and discourage others from buying the product, affecting future revenue potential.

When we look at how poorly we ‘serve’, we should not let our eyes be shut to every aspect of that. I cite a current problem to highlight that point: the Jamaica Constabulary Force and their use of body cameras. This is what Commissioner Anderson said on the failure to use body cameras some two years after they were introduced:

“When you introduce new things and new capabilities, it’s a process. You don’t just buy something to stick them on. There’s a training component, there’s an equipment backup component, a logistics component, a command and control component to it. There’s a whole thing that you used to deliver capabilities, but we haven’t been that good at it.”

That sums up how in many areas we don’t plan, which is the same as planning to fail. We fail to see the importance of things being done with great urgency — which is not the same as speed, because it goes to the matter of purposeful action. Part of that reflects a poor understanding of the true costs of delays, and how one affects so many.

When National Works Agency fails to advise in a timely fashion of road closures or expected delays, a large swathe of the national workforce then has to absorb the delays caused by that lack of information, and the costs and lost output is forcibly shared by all.

When a business advertises its hours as 9:00 to 5:00, but no one is present before 9:30 and gone by 4:30 the costs to customers is clear both in terms of wasted time expecting to be served and time available to be served.

When partygoers see no problem in parking on the Palisadoes Road blocking the only road to the airport.

When staff see no problem doing personal affairs during work time.

Not having consistency in work practices, so service quality is a function of personal interaction, reflects both poor management and oversight as well as poor training. Even in our justice system, where the justice minister has to implore the sector to render swifter justice.

Low productivity is deeply engrained into Jamaican life, but it does not have to stay that way.

Dennis G Jones is an economist.

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Productivity in Jamaica–Sunday Observer column

I was suprised to see this additional column based on my submission to the Jamaica Observer, which ran in the Sunday ‘Agenda’ columns, with some other commentaries on productivity in Jamaica. It’s the fuller version of my original submission, which had been edited down for publication last Friday.

Productivity in Jamaica

Dennis Jones

Sunday, May 06, 2018

There are always questions of productivity in roadwork.

Henry J Lewis wrote an interesting piece, ‘Jamaica moves…slowly’, published in the Jamaica Observer on May 1 2018, on productivity in Jamaica. It set me thinking about his final lament — “Jamaica, let’s move ‘fasser’!”

We are often quick to argue that service and productivity are poor in Jamaica — and that may be so — but it’s possible that we are not really seeing things clearly. But if we are to use speed as our measure, surely we must first ask if that can be the criterion we use when we generally have little regard for timeliness. In the land of soon come, but never reach, what are we really seeking?

I’ll just highlight a couple of instances:

We see a group of workmen beside a roadwork site and one is active and others are not, and we assume they are idle. But we don’t know that each person has the same task and whether each is dependent on the others before they can perform. To set that context better, think of a football team. Just because the goalkeeper is doing nothing is no indication of how effectively the team is working. In fact, the goalie’s inactivity is perhaps a sign of how well the team is doing. He is insurance for when forwards and midfield cannot dominate the opposition. If he were to start running upfield to ‘help’ all could be lost. So, sometimes, all we see are people ‘staying on task’. That’s good, not bad.

We are in line at a bank and see four of 10 teller windows operating and assume the bank is being inefficient by not having more windows manned. But do we have any ideas what other functions are being performed, and/or the estimated costs and benefits of either reallocating current staff or employing more? Our focus is on how our personal needs are being met and our perception of what ‘work’ is. To meet our perceptions, though, how much more would we be happy for banks to charge to give us what we want?

I would be glad to argue that many things in Jamaica could be done differently, and more efficiently, but our anecdotes need much of nuance and understanding.

However, part of service quality and efficiency depends on customer willingness to act in certain ways and employees’ willingness and ability to work differently. The Registrar General’s Department (RGD) offers a time frame for certain basic services, say 10 working days, and for a higher-fee ‘expedited’ service in, say, five working days. Imagine if everyone opted for expedited service, would RGD be able to deliver and, if so, could we argue that five days should become the basic service? Before we can answer, we need to know what happens and does not happen to allow some processing times to be halved. Is the counterpart that some other processes are lengthened? If so, how significant are they?

When service speed is slow it may be despite the best efforts of the provider. The bank is again a good place to look. I rarely go into a bank, finding I can do almost all my business electronically. When I have visited banks I’m often amused to notice how many transactions are lengthened by activities not to do with core banking. Some of these activities are great from a social viewpoint, such as some extended small talk, but they cost time for other customers. Some reflect lack of understanding by customers and the need for them to reprocess their requests; for example, someone is depositing cheques that need countersigning, but that had not been done, and it would be better for the customer to move away and do that, but he/she insists on staying at the window. If the customer is the cause of slowness or inconvenience, how should we deal with that?

Banking again: I’ve often seen complaints about how long some people spend at an ABM, and disbelief that more than 2-3 minutes are needed. What would we prefer? That the machine sets off a siren or a shower of water if it senses a person’s presence beyond three minutes?

How are we to be convinced that service is better? Is it truly speed alone? Faster with a smile and a greeting? Is there a measure of quality or quantity that is more or less universal, or can be applied to a specific area of provision? Do we want doctors to be faster with their consultations? Taking care to do things right takes time and can save lives. We may also have to accept that not all have the same proficiency. If ability is the issue, what do organisations do if, despite excellent trainers, they cannot find good enough candidates? The best service may demand much more automation, but are we going to be happy with the implications for those who seek jobs but cannot outperform machines or technology?

I spent part of my weekend at a police lock-up and saw what is common practice for Jamaica Constabulary Force — everything was handwritten in log books. No backup, hard to cross-reference, etc. We can point to such practices as part of a general inefficiency in police operations, no doubt. But to whom can we turn to fix that? Is it the worker to blame, or the employer, in such simple situations? What would need to happen for that to change, not even to a Utopian state, but just better record-keeping? If we cannot answer that across a range of functions, that is really the problem.

Dennis G Jones is an economist. Send comments to the Observer or dennisgjones@gmail.com.

 

Lack of speed not the problem with Jamaican service–Jamaica Observer column

I wrote a response to a column published last Monday, by Henry J. Lewis, ‘Jamaica moves…slowly‘, whose concluding comment was ‘Jamaica, let’s move ‘fasser’! I wondered if this was really what we needed. My retort was published in today’s Jamaica Observer, ‘Lack of speed not the problem with Jamaican service‘:

We are often quick to argue that service and productivity are poor in Jamaica, and that may be so, but it’s possible that we are not really seeing things clearly.

If we are to use speed as our measure, surely we must first ask if that can be the criterion we use, when we generally have little regard for tiemliness. In the land of soon come, but never reach, what are we really seeking?

I’ll just highlight a couple of instances:

We see a group of workmen beside a roadwork, and one is active and others are not and we assume they are idle. But we don’t know that each person has the same task or whether each is dependent on the others before they can perform.

To set that context better, think of a football team. Just because the goalkeeper is doing nothing is no indication of how effectively the team is working. In fact, the goalie’s inactivity is perhaps a sign of how well the team is doing. He is insurance for when forwards and midfield cannot dominate the opposition.

If he were to start running upfield to ‘help’ all could be lost. So, sometimes, all we see are people ‘staying on task’. That’s good, not bad.

We are in line at a bank, and see four of 10 teller windows operating and assume the bank is being inefficient by not having more windows manned. But do we have any idea what other functions are being performed, and/or the estimated costs and benefits of either reallocating current staff or employing more?

Our focus is on how our personal needs are being met and our perception of what ‘work’ is. To meet our perceptions, though, how much more would we be happy for banks to charge to give us what we wanted?

I would be glad to argue that many things in Jamaica could be done differently and more efficiently, but our anecdotes need much of nuance and understanding.

However, part of service quality and efficiency depends on customer willingness to act in certain ways and employees’ willingness and ability to work differently.

RGD offers a time frame for certain basic services, say 10 working days, and for a higher fee ‘expedited’ service, in say, five working days. Imagine if everyone opted for expedited service. Would RGD be able to deliver and if so, could we argue that five days should become the basic service?

Before we can answer we need to know what happens and does not happen to allow some processing times to be halved. Is the counterpart that some other processes are lengthened? If so, how significant are they?

When service speed is slow it may be despite the best efforts of the provider.

The bank is again a good place to look. I rarely go into a bank, finding I can do almost all my business electronically. When I have visited banks I’m often amused to notice how many transactions are lengthened by activities not to do with core banking. Some of these activities are great from a social viewpoint, such as some extended small talk, but they cost time for other customers. Some reflect lack of understanding by customers and the need for them to reprocsss their requests: for example, someone is depositing cheques that need counter signing but had not been done, and it would be better for the customer to move away and do that but he/she insists on staying at the window. If the customer is the cause of slowness or inconvenience, how should we deal with that?

Banking again. I’ve often seen complaints about how long some people spend at an ABM, and disbelief that more than two to three minutes are needed. What would we prefer? That the machine sets off a siren or a shower of water, if it senses a person’s presence beyond three minutes?

How are we to be convinced that service is better? Is it truly speed alone?

Faster with a smile and a greeting? Is there a measure of quality or quantity that is more or less universal, or can be applied to a specific area of provision?

Do we want doctors to be faster with their consultations? Taking care to do things right takes time and can save lives. We may also have to accept that not all have the same proficiency.

If ability is the issue what do organisations do if, despite excellent trainers, they cannot find good enough candidates? The best service may demand much more automation, but are we going to be happy with the implications for those who seek jobs but cannot outperform machines or technology?

I spent part of my weekend at a police lock-up and saw what is common practice for Jamaica Constabulary — everything was handwritten in log books. No back-up. Hard to cross-reference, etc. We can point to such practices as part of a general inefficiency in police operations, no doubt. But to whom can we turn to fix that? Is it the worker to blame, or the employer, in such simple situations?

What would need to happen for that to change, not even to an Utopian state, but just better record-keeping? If we cannot answer that across a range of functions, that is really the problem.

#PassingInterestJamaica #April2018

My theme for last month was just to capture those things or moments that flashed before me on the move or on the roads of Jamaica. Some caused me to back up and blink before I grabbed my images.

Enjoy the glimpses and look for the fuller set on my Instagram page (@dennisgjones).

My May theme? Not yet decided.

The crime statistics speak for themselves

Thought provoking piece by Kevin O’Brien Chang, which excluded the following chart:

In 2016 Jamaica had the world’s highest violent death rate for females, and the sixth highest in …
— Read on www.jamaicaobserver.com/the-agenda/the-crime-statistics-speak-for-themselves_130574

A little lexicon of modern Jamaican politics

Just over two years into the current administration and the government formed by the Andrew Holness and his JLP colleagues has had more than enough time to stamp its image clearly in the minds of Jamaicans and on the shape of the island. But, also they’ve affected how life has been led and seen, especially in the political sphere. I think that they’ve had a hand in changing our language and expressions and experience in that area. So, here’s a JLP-inspired dictionary of modern Jamaica.

A is for Andrew, standing atop his team, and none is his peer, thanks to a tight grip on his super ministry of economic growth etc. Like the Pope, he should be called His Holiness.

B is for BS, that stock-in-trade of politicians, but now masked by a well-oiled PR machine at the top of the administration, though it cannot control the arrant babbling lower down tree. If you find ‘arrant babbling’ harsh, I suggest you trawl through some of the postings made by Cabinet ministers on Twitter. Well, that’s #MyPersonalView 😉

C is for CHEC, a better mark of policy continuity than most things in Jamaican life. They may not be ‘our’ Chinese, but as visitors noted last week the ‘Chinese road’ has marked our land and our movement…Crime, too, facilitated some say by these same new roads.

D is for dialogue, often mentioned but rarely undertaken.

E is for Electoral Commission of Jamaica, who’ve been so busy organizing by-elections. Though, the resignation in March of Director of Elections Orette Fisher is murky and now mired in sub justice… But, with all he talk of by-elections, all that targeted spending makes one think of buy elections.

F is for foreign influence, whichI think is as strong now as in the previous administration, though shared differently. I really can’t say if it’s on balance good or bad, whether CHEC matters more than RUBIS matters more than IMF or World Bank or EU or IDB or CDB or International Maritime Organization or WTO or IOC, etc.

G is for guns…illegal, many found but little or no impact on killings. Of course, green, too.

H is health and hospital crises, as in obesity and wellness and Cornwall Regional…

I is for identity, as in National Identity Scheme, the curer of all ills, if you believe the propaganda. But, it’s still something Jamaicans don’t really have as a shared set of values.

J is for justice, still too often delayed, even in the matter of appointing a new Chief. For goodness, Sykes! 🙂 Similarly, delayed are those job descriptions.

K is for Kingston, getting back some lost lustre. 145 years strong and on the verge of something new?

L is for Labour and Labourites, as terms of endearment and for some ‘our’ time. How wonderful it must be to have your party colour as part of the national flag. It’s not easy being green? 🙂

M is still ‘Man a yaad’…Macaroni…Move it! But, it began with Nesbeth and ‘My dream’.

N is for Nigel…#BlackEnglishman…Clarke: finance portfolio in the hands of a PhD mathematician? What could go wrong? 🤔

O is Office of the Prime Minister, or OPM, or ‘old people’s mausoleum’; a mega ministry now filled with dinosaurs and moving like them? #JustAsking.

P is well, you know it will have to be “P for Prosperity”!

Q is for questions–and there are many–that are important but don’t get answered…unless people go through ATI.

R must be for Ruddy Spencer, whose crude truth about partisan policies and political tribalism went unpunished and who can feel strengthened by his leader’s confidence in naming him 2nd in charge of no less a ministry than national security. It’s ‘ruddy’ right that ‘our’ people get their due when ‘we’ are in power. Tell those other Jamaicans to go find their own seeds. I see he eventually apologized in a more fulsome way, according to a letter to the Political Ombudsman, after some public criticism of his earlier limited apology. Lessons learned?

S for Shane…I’m no Jamaican. State of Emergency, even if you call it enhanced safety measures, it is what it is. Security, as in when can we sleep with our doors open, again?

T is for tribalism, still strong, still wrong.

U is for underrepresented, as in the basis of government is clearly not of the people: 48 percent voter turnout in the February 2016 general election is shocking, but the downward trend since the mid-1970s is clear.

V is for voters, too tired to care?

W is for Warmington, Everald. Is this boy attending class? Because, he’s been notable for his relative absence from the fray. Anyone knowing his whereabouts, please put your hand up…though, where I’ll leave to you 🙂

X is the spot less often marked in elections as voter participation rates plummet.

Y is for ‘Yes men and women’. No one can deny the wave of psychophantic behaviour often exhibited by those who surround the PM. If there are critics in that group, they’re sounding like 🦗 crickets 🦗.

Z is for ZOSO

#FloraAndFaunaJamaica #March2018

As the month and Easter come to their ends, Spring is formally here and growing is what many plants are doing. Sometimes, new leaves and new blossoms and new fruit appear. Other times, old growth holds its sway. Here are my Instagram pictures on this theme during the month.

The new team is announced. If ‘Cabinet Jamaica’ were a football team what should it have done?

Nothing gets people more excited than what happens in sports, and I say that without reservation to those who want to say that religion has a greater pull. Now, what we’ve seen over many years is that when sports teams start to do badly, calls come fast and furiously to change the manager/coach. Much the same happens in business, where people call for the head of the CEO. But, in politics, when things start to look stale and out of sorts, the call is not always clearly for the head to go, but for the team to be changed. In politics, it’s not agreed that the poor performance of the team of its players are to be laid at the feet of the leader, but for blame and the change in results to come from finding a ‘Messi’ where you had a ‘Giroud’ or swapping a ‘Ver Stegen’ for a ‘Joe Hart’.

For those of you who take note of parallel events, think how Luke Shaw has been under the cosh at ManU. But, then also recall what a great striker Allan Clarke (aka ‘Sniffer’, for his prowess in front of goal, netting nearly a goal every other game) was, coming out of almost-nowhere to take the English First Division by storm, helping to take Leicester City to the top of the league in the early 1960s.

Now, before my British friends start to jump up and spill their fish and chips, about how many have been asking for the head of PM Theresa May to roll since the Brexit things started to go south, or even east and west and north all at once, I’ll say that the Theresa May story is also tempered by calls for some of the heads of the team to roll, maybe even faster.

But, where does this take me, when I look at Jamaica? PM Andrew Holness has just had a minor reshuffle of his Cabinet, and if you were not paying attention you’d not really notice what changed apart from a couple of new faces at the table, and some of the older faces and bodies (if I can be so direct) moving from straight-backed chairs into soft recliners. So, is this ‘change of team’ strategy going to do wonders for ‘Team Jamaica’ or should it have been a case of a Kamikaze-style mea culpa of the PM saying, “Guys and gals, the buck stops here, and the persistent failings that I have noticed in how the team has performed is down to me. I’m getting on my horse to see the GG, right now. So, adios!”?

Well, first, that is not the Jamaican way, which would have at least been preceded by a period of blame-shifting, and some name calling and some attempt to blame the Opposition for playing partisan-politics and poisoning the people against the good things the government has tried to do, but not succeeded so well. But, then again, that would have been a tricky ploy not least because the whole idea of standing on a principle of accountability and transparency was not the Opposition’s idea, but the new government’s own. I wont harp on too much about ‘job descriptions’, ‘performance assessments’, and the clear indications that something measurable would be presented to the people so that they could see for themselves how well or poorly Cabinet minsters were doing. Trouble is, though, such measures are then hard to contest.

Looked at again, in the football sense, you get a man to be top striker, but he keeps scoring in your own goal? Well, that can’t be good. You have people who decide that policies be damned, let black magic work? Well, what is all that? Your main man between the goal posts, who’s there to save at the last moment and also be a hero when things get down to the penalty shoot-out, can’t always be taking a puff on his inhaler or sipping on his water bottle at the key moments. Footballers have a prime and often past that prime, their minds are willing but their bodies are not so ready. You get my drift?

So, my question is really simple. What is the change of Cabinet really meant to indicate?

I look at all the EPL managers who have been under threat or lost their jobs this season. Conte/Chelsea, sitting in the top 4 nearly all season, but the man is under threat? Swansea, Stoke, West Bromwich, Crystal Palace, Everton, West Ham, Southampton and more, struggling to move from the threat of relegation into at least mid-table, all changing managers. One minute, Koeman is the man, then he’s ‘Who, man?’. From GOAT to goat!

ManU spend like crazy but still can’t deal with seeming brilliant leadership of Guardiola at Man City, so Mourihno is under threat. Would it make sense for him to ditch Pogba or de Gea or Fellani? Jose is more likely to walk or be pushed before they all go.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to look at what the other team is doing in your league, just look at what the best in the other leagues in the world do.

Don’t think too hard, though 🙂

What did you spend, and why did you spend it? The bad optics of ministerial luxury spending

Good management of public money is really quite simple, until that management forgets the essential principle: the money is not for personal benefit, but for the benefit of the greatest number of the population. Once that principle is forgotten, all bets are off, in a sense, because any number of reasons can be used to draw on that source of funding for reasons that are geared towards benefitting a group less than the greatest number. Jamaica is one country where that principle has been abandoned often, and has struggled to be reinstated. One problem is the accumulated ‘scar tissue’ of funds having been used for the good of a small group (let’s call them party faithfuls), so there’s a reactionary impulse that says something like ‘We were underserved in the past, so let’s get back what we were due, before doing anything else’. Evidence of that was put forward clearly last week in the form of the remarks by a minister of state for finance–ironically, someone whose hand should be carefully tight around the public purse strings. But, like many a drug addict when faced with one last ‘hit’ before giving up, old habits die hard.

I’m on record as not being a fan of public money being spent that sets public officials on a pedestal. I understand that many are in public office for the profile it gives, but I would hope that those people have very short tenures, but it’s not something I can control. For that reason, the furore that erupted yesterday about alleged government spending on luxury vehicles for ministers is close to my heart, as concerns go. It brought back to mind a situation when I was working for the IMF as resident representative for Guinea. At the time, the country had no program with the Fund and was trying to get its economic policy in order so that it could be considered or one. Public finance was out of control but there were few options left to stop the bleeding. Cuts that affected social services were not going to be popular in a country that has some of the worst poverty. What then? Well, as a gesture but also as a clearly quantifiable saving, the idea came up of ‘downgrading’ the vehicles used by ministers. Now, Guinea has some terrible roads and many officials visits need to go into rural areas where an four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary. But, the optics of ministers driving around the country is such vehicles was not good. So, in the blink of an eye the president was persuaded to authorize that the ministerial 4x4s (often Toyota Land Cruisers) were confiscated and replaced by ordinary Toyota Corollas. Let me leave the story there, and say no more about my part in it 🙂

Jamaica, likkle but tallawah, so why not try to break the Macaroni world record?

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My teenaged daughter, a bright and energetic child, has had the advantage of seeing much of the world already. She’s, however, grounded herself with the fact that her heritage is Caribbean, and many of the things that make that special centre on how pleasing it is to eat and prepare certain foods. She knows, for example, that no matter what anyone close to her but outside of her family my say, and no matter how strong may be the protestations of voices coming simply or collectively from other nations, no one…no one makes macaroni (cheese, pie, or whatever it may be called) like her ‘ Grammy’ (her mother’s mother, who is Bahamian). I suspect that sometime during her development she was infused by the voice and sentiment of her pregnant mother uttering phrases, in between deep breaths, about how to cook macaroni. I had had nice macaroni cheese growing up in England, but quickly to realize that I had been badly misled in believing that the way it was served to me was in fact the best. I now know better, and betting a good husband, when my wife offers me a piece of her mother’s macaroni cheese, I only hesitate to ask if it is (my favourite part) from one of the corners.

Fast forward. I was talking to my daughter in the car earlier this week, on our way home from school and discussing how in certain fields you have not ‘made it’ until you become the subject of a cartoon. It has happened to me, and I’m sure it happened to her mother, though I cannot recall when or where.

However, I hoped my daughter understood that ‘making it’ in politics is also about making sure that positives don’t get outweighed by negatives, and in that sense, cartoons can be a double-edged sword because they may characterize the good and the bad as seen in the eyes of the public, or at least of the cartoonist.

What I should have added, is that in the world of politics, it’s also important to not be associated with things that are the butt of ridicule.

Fast forward, again. If you’re in Jamaica and you don’t know about ‘Macaroni’, the hapless Coaster bus driver who tried to drive though a flooded stretch of road and got his bus stuck, then I am truly helpless in your case. I suggest, you find remedial help from any of a myriad collection of religious groups that are willing to keep you out of touch from reality.

Now, for the government of the day to be associated with the ‘tactics’ of ‘Macaroni’ is indeed sad, but also a classic example of what happens when attempts to manage the narratives of public discourse cannot work because reality constantly turns out to be far more ridiculous than even the wickedest of satirists could imagine. In that vein, I am going to just point to two recent instances and leave you to following the breadcrumbs. A hint: governance, cronyism. Nada mas! Well, never mind what people say, look at what they do.

Can any one politician be more ruddy tone deaf that him?

How much macaroni can you buy for J$190 million, and how many cars or SUVs would you need to transport it around the country? My guess is 18, which could easily maintain a smooth ride over the verdant (green) terrain even at the highest-end of the island.

I think Jamaica could do wonders for its image if it had a crack at breaking the world record for a macaroni cheese. Do you think the current administration wants to back this idea?