“Golf is all about confidence and expectations, just like the economy.” As I was struggling with my confidence and my expectations were being adjusted accordingly, I had to agree with that contention, put to me by a doctor with whom I had been playing in the annual SANTA tournament.
A few months ago, we had the not-so-stunning news that business and consumer confidence were at all-time lows in Jamaica. As Christmas approaches, I wonder if that has changed much.
Those who don’t have regular paying jobs may be feeling better because the government has managed to roll out the traditional ‘Christmas work’–cutting bush on road sides, minor road patching, etc. As I drive around I see groups of women raking grass and bagging it, or groups of men chopping bush, or groups of men and women tending flags by trucks and tar and marl being dumped into potholes. At least, there will be something available to put food or toys or books into little hampers.
The charitable season is in full swing. Salvation Army workers are in the malls and shopping plazas with their bells and buckets hoping for a little donation. I think I’ve put money into the bucket every time I go to the supermarket: my conscience won’t let me buy food for my family and think that I cannot spare a little to help put food on someone else’s table.
But, everybody wants a little money. My wife commented that Jamaica needed to get into the 21st century as she looked at brown envelopes, with handwritten messages, from various service workers. The man who delivers newspapers; from the garbage collectors (seeking “your usual contribution”–should we give nothing because we were not usually here having them collect our garbage?); the postman. I did not want to annoy her by saying that they had progressed by being so discreet and not just knocked on the door and put out their hands. I remember the days when that used to be the case, and it was often the way that some black Christmas cake and sorrel (usually spiked with white rum) would be offered to show that the season was here.
This week, a delegation of high-level Jamaican financial officials, led by Finance Minister Phillips, is in China. The delegation will meet with officials from some of China’s major private financial institutions and firms involved in overseas investments.
The agenda will cover trade, financial and investment relationship between Jamaica and China, and discussions on how China may assist in Jamaica’s efforts to address its debt-service challenges. We’re not quite heading off with a begging bowl, but we’re hoping the financial Salvation Army will be giving to us.
The country has had a beating that has sapped confidence and made a huge dent in expectations. That beating has not been just because of the economic struggles–for which, we really don’t have any heroes who can be seen to lead us forward. The litany of brutality has reached a stage where sane people must be questioning what is driving people to do such craziness. Literally, driving, in the case of the carnage on Jamaican roads. The number of road accidents is a breath away from 300 for the year, after expectations were set that 240 deaths would not be exceeded. Excessive speed in many cases has seen the all-too-familiar image of a crumpled car on a road, often tangled with another crumpled car, but sometimes with no other vehicles around. I was in a line of traffic the other day, when a motorcyclist and his passenger roared past me, riding in the lane for the oncoming traffic, and I saw the pair veer at the last moment as they tucked back in before an oncoming cement mixer truck. I asked myself why two people would hurtle towards near death, without even the protection of helmets, when it would be so much more sensible to at least wait until there was no oncoming traffic, or certainly none so potentially devastating as a truck. We have a country filled with road rage: raging madness. Every day, I see an accident. Most of them are on straight stretches of road. Most of them seem to suggest that at least one driver was not attentive: they are usually fender benders with minor damage. They are often on roads that don’t allow much speed. Extrapolate that lack of attention to roads that allow speeding–especially the stretches of highway on the north coast and there you have carnage central. I often drive on roads going over the hills because I find that less traffic uses such routes, and drivers are usually more attentive–mindful of the clear risks of losing control and heading off into a ravine. This week, we had a bizarre accident involving a large public bus driven by a learner driver, a madman, and a mother and child. No lives were lost, but the mother and child had to be taken to hospital.
But, the real confidence sapper for me and the thing that is likely to dash many expectations is the rate at which murders are being committed. The Security Minister, Mr. Bunting, talks a good talk. The Police Commissioner and his deputies talk a good talk. But gunmen, allegedly often in gang-related killings, are wreaking havoc on lives and seem to be incapable of doing anything but riddle people with bullets as if they were at the fun fair hitting targets to take home fluffy toys. I cannot fathom the trend of these brutal killings. I cannot understand some of the so-called crimes of passion, such as the recent incident in Nain, St. Elizabeth, when a man chopped his teenage ‘baby mother’ to death. Outrage came quickly as the man was besieged by a mob and barricaded himself in a house, having to be rescued by the police. Bizarre! Crazy!
The wave of killings in the western end of the island has reached epidemic proportions. Is it the outcrop of clampdown on the lotto scammers, who now seek to get their wants for high living met by robbing and killing? Gangs? Tit-for-tat? Years of vowing to “crush gangs” are not changing a thing. Talk is cheap! Intensification of efforts seem to have been met with an extension of the wave of shootings. The tourism sector must be wondering if and when this may spill over to them and really damage that activity.
Who, in their right mind, would think about investing in the inmates of an asylum as the next set of trainees to rock the world? Maybe, the Chinese can see something that I cannot see even in my wildest dreams. Chinese-owned businesses in Jamaica have already been the target of much extortion, robberies and violence.
I am confident that our officials will expect good results, but I have no confidence and no expectations that these will be forthcoming. I’m an economist. I have to believe in rational behavior. But, I feel that we are just another scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: “All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down.”