Out of many, one people

I drove from Kingston to Montego Bay, using the new Mount Rosser bypass. The scenery on that route is stunning. But, along the whole route, other things caught my eye. They are all part of Jamaica.

Gas station, at 6am, with men and women talking, and mosquitoes buzzing. The rain the night before had brought our friends out in force. The pump attendant was as pleasant as could be.

Women sweeping streets, before dawn. Often, never seen, and people often complain about how much garbage spoils our environment, not realizing that much is a fresh daily addition.

Buses standing outside Spanish Town hospital. Passengers being sought, and drivers waiting for a full load.

Driving through old Spanish Town is always a treat. Each time I pass its centre, I promise myself that I will do a walking tour. Its history is too important to be pushed off to the sidelines and mired in grime and indifference.
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At dawn, as I pass the court, I could be in Latin America.

Bog Walk gorge and Flat Bridge are always fascinating. The severe drought has kept water levels low in the Rio Cobre. I notice how the water course is getting clogged with water hyacinths. They may help to keep waterways clean, but once they take hold they strangle those waterways. Check what has happened in south east Asia.

After the previous night’s heavy rain–100mm or 4 inches–the river was flowing faster.

Jamaicans like to drive fast. As we approach Linstead, a small truck and a minibus ‘get into it’. They don’t want either to pass and race like Rosberg and Hamilton, almost touching. I slow down and let distance increase. Our accidents are often the result of carelessness and recklessness.

We reach the bypass and are greeted by a toll booth attendant training for the full opening. I ask if she will be selling patties next week. She laughed.

The drive is a feast for the eyes if you like to look at mountains in the distance and banana trees closer. I understand why some people just sight see.

Within 15 minutes, we have come off the bypass. No trucks delayed us. We discuss the history of the new road. We thank China. But, we have plenty of winding roads ahead as we head for Chalky Hill. Trucks have lain in wait and come out to slow us, now.

The coast road is really a dull drive by comparison to the country road. Little breaks the boredom besides the quality of the route. We stop at a great breakfast place in Runaway Bay. Salt mackerel, ackee, saltfish, yam, boiled bananas, dumplings boiled and fried? Yes, please. Best value for money.

Moving along the coast the hotels spring up. We pass Duncans, where little houses are growing into mansions. New housing is springing up elsewhere, huge estates. Who will live there?

We reach Spot Valley, and our drive is almost done. New hotels are going up and workers line the road, ready for another day.

Strangely, though, tourists are also walking along the road. No sidewalk. They’re heading to the convention centre. The Taekwondo world cup is on. Later, we’d see some of them licking fingers after eating jerk food.

Why do the press think we should speak with one voice?

Economic activity, or what is called casually ‘growth’, is hard to measure, so when the question of whether growth is occurring, plenty of scope exists for differences of opinion. Without getting too technical, what we want to measure is either the total production, incomes, or spending within the economy. If everything was tied to some central calculator, it would be easy to know what is happening in real time. That would be really cool. But, we humans haven’t been that clever. Instead, we try to get an idea of what’s going on by taking surveys of firms, government, and households, to compile our data. Adding the pieces is simpler when we have common units, such as how much money is involved. That’s fine for incomes or spending. For production and services, we’re stuck trying to measure physical things that are not similar: tons of steel girders, bushels of potatoes, kilos of fresh fish, number of people given advice, patients treated in hospitals, etc. That gives an idea of the computational issues. When the bodies surveyed don’t reply or reply late, the compilers have to adjust for the gaps. So, the best of intent is often subject to the failings of people involved.

The difficulty of measuring correctly and consistently is also there across all areas of the economy, but tends to be of a different order with say prices, external trade, monetary developments, or government financial operations.

Earlier this week, the Governor of the Bank of Jamaica spoke about how the economy had shown “unprecedented resilience” to inflationary shocks, and touched on how the economy had been growing and would grow in coming months. Not surprising to me, at least, someone took issue with that. The fact that it was the chairman of the newly formed Economic Advisory Council of the Jamaica Labour Party–the official opposition party–made this difference of view more interesting. That no academic economists sought to debate the matter says volumes. The official government spokesmen on economic policy are more likely to put data and developments in a positive light, so we need someone to either put a different view on the data and developments or to corroborate the official view. That the academics appear to do neither makes me wonder what role they think they should play, other than training another generation of thinkers and doers.

Countries like Jamaica are full of partisans and many views can only be understood through the optics of partisanship. But, we need to hear those diverse voices and we can try to filter the biases.

The official opposition and its support agencies cannot spend their time effectively being a cheerleader for government. Instead, they oppose, at the least by questioning what government says and does. That said, it’s peculiar that one newspaper would think that it should tell an opposition agent to be careful in disagreeing with the spin the government has given to economic news. The media themselves should be seeking to assess what the government is saying, questioning the speed with which opposing voices are raised. This is a democracy, after all. 

Jamaica is in a low growth environment for decades, and has been for decades, according to official data. Saying that it’s grown by about one percent in recent quarters, is as good as saying nothing has changed, if we look at the statistical noise surrounding that small rate of change. So, disputing the contention is no really big thing–unless one only wants to hear that things are better, which is as bad as only hearing that things are worse.

If we just go with our eyes and ears, we can come up with a story that fits the notion that Jamaica has been growing recently (e.g., construction activity), or remaining stagnant (e.g., little change in unemployment), or going into decline (e.g., drought has meant negative disruptions across a range of economic activities, and people who are having a harder financial time now than a year ago, not least because wages have been held unchanged or considerably lower than many prices, especially the cost of utilities).

There is rarely a single truth where economic data are concerned. Asking that we all hold onto the single message put out by the government does us all a disservice.

Out of sight, out of mind? Diaspora gets the message

Jamaicans have been encouraged to consume local products through campaigns such as ‘grow what we eat, eat what we grow’. But, this turning away from things from abroad in food, which is not fully supported, has another twist. It’s seems that we also are seeing a push against people who are not local.

We are looking for a new police commissioner. However, it’s been disturbing to see that rather than seek the best, unequivocally, political interference has entered to limit the choices to local candidates.

In many places that would not seem out of place, because non local and foreign are almost synonymous. But, for many countries like Jamaica, which have seen and been saved by emigration, this has a bitter twist. Undoubtedly, many of our very capable people have migrated, and made good careers abroad. Why should we put a blanket bar on any of them who wish to return? If they are rejected wholesale for some high profile posts, what message is sent to the rejected and others?

This week, we get to ponder the question. A person born and educated through high school in Jamaica, who migrated then rose through the ranks as an agent of the US FBI, had his application for the commissioner post rejected. This has many layers, including simple protocol such as how much detail is given to rejected candidates. He feels ‘baffled’ and that he was ‘dissed’. Whatever the merits of Wilfred Rattigan, he ‘did not fit’. He comes with some yellow flags based on his past record in  the USA, but we have not been informed why his application was rejected. Instead, we get to hear that six candidates, all from within the JCF, have been shortlisted.

Public reactions have varied from supportive to dismissive. As it affects the police, some people also have concerns about whether this is another way of limiting real change in a force known to have a problem with corruption.

A deep tension exists between Jamaicans living in Jamaica and Jamaicans or those of Jamaican origin living abroad. Attempts by the so-called diaspora to influence or be involved in Jamaican national activities can be seen from many perspectives. Right now, they have to live with rejection.

Only the uninformed would reject the impact of the diaspora on Jamaicans’ livelihoods. But, the love of barrels does not equate to neutral attitudes when it comes to competing for jobs.

We know that Jamaicans often show plenty of love for overseas candidates who are not Jamaican, and whatever the merits of such amour, it will always make the rejection of a person with Jamaican roots seem odd. In the case of the police force, we’ve raided Scotland Yard in the past. 

The diaspora’s major influence seems to be its financial clout, but do experiences such as that over the police commissioner mean that they will start considering ways to avoid more diasporic dissonance.

Lost without a trace: finding a Portia in a storm

I was unable to listen to exchanges between the PM and Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition a few days ago. But, reports reaching me indicated that the lady broke her customary silence to sling some barbs at ‘the boy’. Part of me could care less about the contents of the exchanges. Really, why would the lady stop working, working, working just to have a verbal battle with the leader of the opposition? Logic tells me that it’s because she feels comfortable doing it and believes she can trace so well as to leave any opponent lost without a trace. No bruises, no blood. It’s not about substantive argument. It’s about form of engagement, and this down in the dirt stuff about not that much is the form preferred.

The PM rarely misses a chance to diss her younger counterpart. She quickly ‘went there’ during a rent official visit to Japan. I’m sure that if she had the chance to don a sumo wrestler suit, and go belly to belly with Andrew the Younger she’d have taken it.

So, what got the bile bubbling this week? St. Andrew questioned her commitment to the eradication of poverty in Jamaica. That’s a fair question, and ought to have been nectar to a butterfly. Instead of “Well, Sonny, let me tell you…” we got a lot of “How dare you?” and exchanges about who was an empty barrel or not. C’mon, children, stop throwing sand.

A substantive answer by the PM would have been embarrassing.

Jamaicans know what has happened to poverty (courtesy of The Jamaica Gleaner)
Jamaicans know what has happened to poverty (courtesy of The Jamaica Gleaner)

Just last month, the UN’s human development index showed Jamaica had fallen 11 places to 96th out of 187 countries, and was in danger of losing status from ‘high’ to ‘medium’. Rather, distract and dissemble. Cuss and cuss. Cass and cass-cass. 

Like a child who loves to see cartoon characters launch into each other, the PM seems to like the image of her laying into ‘baby man’. 

I suspect that many partisans love this kind of thing. Then again, how the parties deal with issues is not what keeps them engaged. 

Kissy, kissy? Slime ball!
Andrew: “Kissy, kissy?” Portia: “Slime ball!”

They praise the leaderene. Hip, hip, hurrray-ray.

Andy is younger and shows he’s a man of the younger generation. He’s on Twitter, but the PM wants to make him out to be a twit. He’s on Facebook, but the PM will gladly throw a book in his face. He may try to come over as slick and modern, and is not so well armed in the gutter sniping department. Will he change or try to stay on some kind of discourse high ground? Time will tell, and the possibility of an election may be the trigger for Andy to start slapping back.

Are We Serious About Football? The Gleaner article

I am still not used to how things work in Jamaica. I have an opinion about many things, so feel free to express those by commenting occasionally on articles I read in the press. In the UK or US or Barbados, when I did this, the newspapers would respond if they thought the piece worth publishing, to alert me to the possibility, and if the piece were edited, to get my agreement to the changes. Not so, in Jamaica, with one exception. So, I was surprised to see my reaction to a piece written last week by Miguel Lorne, a well-known attorney, whose piece was entitled ‘Let’s spark a football revolution‘. I got the ‘contributor’ treatment, as the reactions were long, and lent themselves to a column rather than a letter. That was nice, and it made my morning review of news online a bit more interesting.

I won’t take issue with the Gleaner about their processes–well, maybe, just a little bit. I think it would be good PR to contact potential contributors, just in case they have second thoughts about their pieces being published. It wouldn’t take long, and shouldn’t really slow down publication times. So, let’s see if they review that aspect.

Meantime, here is the published article. It includes a link to the comments, in case anyone wants to follow if and how other readers react.

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Are We Serious About Football?

Published: Tuesday | August 26, 2014 1 Comment

 
Dennis Jones, Contributor

Miguel Lorne is right: Asking for better playing surfaces is meaningless. Jamaican football needs a root and branch overhaul.

If it’s meant to be a professional sport, it needs an organisational and financial structure to support that. The recent Tivoli Gardens debacle speaks volumes.

Asking employers to give players time off tells me that the right structure is not there to give the local top players a living. So let’s look carefully at other small countries where the structure is semi-professional or mainly amateur. It can still produce great players, but they will drift away to make a living elsewhere if they are good enough. But we also need to understand why players cannot earn a living from this sport and why private investors do not want to back it substantially.

We seem to want what we have not developed. A great national team needs a feeder structure for younger players that develops them into playing at the highest level. Jamaica doesn’t have that. The youth focus is on schoolboy football and not on feeding the young players into the development structures of the top clubs.

I think we have an odd set-up. It’s not the norm in the well-established countries of world football. It’s similar, though, to a big neighbour, which is new to the sport. The general US sports set-up tends to put a lot of emphasis on playing through high school to feed into college to feed into the pros. That did not produce a good product for national soccer/football, despite how it worked for other sports.

Clubs now get involved in developing talent earlier, through youth teams and academies. They and the national team also realise that the depth of talent in the country is limited, and has to be supplemented from abroad by players coming from stronger youth-development programmes.

The results have been clear in recent years. That’s a tension to resolve in the Jamaican set-up. Additionally, thinking that eligible players who are not native-born are a problem is flying in the face of opposing views in many much stronger footballing nations.

I worry, though, about the sentiment that the JFF should help build clubs. This is not a Soviet country. If clubs are not capable of building themselves, they will fail and others will be created and succeed – or not. That takes time and building. If it hasn’t happened, you cannot will it.

If petty jealousies or personality disputes have been part of the problem – and I’m just speculating – that’s part of the process. Many great clubs have been formed in exactly that way, eg, Everton and Liverpool.

I’ve yet to read or hear a candid assessment of local football by the national federation. That suggests to me that either the analysis has not been done, or its results seem too unpalatable to share. Is there a third reason?

Dennis Jones is an economist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and dennisgjones@gmail.com.

My Kingston: Sunday Observer

I was a bit surprised to see the following piece in the Sunday Observer’s Lifestyle section. It’s dangerously close to a Page 2, and I have to be careful about what appears to be the life of a retired economist. Yes, I’d answered the questions, but it was not with a clear idea of when it would feature. That was partly because I was whisked away to help some junior golfers at a camp in Montego Bay. It was a companion piece, featuring my wife her official capacity, but with a slant on style. That’s an area where I tend to be iconoclastic. So, with that in mind, it’s amusing that I got kind of hoodwinked. Anyway, the phone has not been ringing off the hook, so I’m not having to answer any image-correcting questions. The Sunday papers are always a good read 🙂

A few people have mentioned that they would vote for me, if I ran for political office. I’ve said I have no such aspirations–and that has often been the reply of someone who then goes off to create a campaign committee. Someone wondered about my travel list, and I explained that I’ve travelled a lot and over many years, and picking a shortlist is really unfair.
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My Kingston — Dennis Jones
Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dennis Jones, economist (retired)

What’s your middle name?

George.

You’re Jamaican by birth but have lived overseas in excess of 50 years. What were your first impressions of Kingston on your return?

No place I’d rather be.

What kept you away from Jamaica for so long?

Life, and lack of opportunities. I tried twice to come to Jamaica to work, but never got offers. I made my life in England where I worked for the Bank of England for a decade, mainly on financial markets, but also leading a group of economists covering Latin America and the Caribbean. In the USA, I worked at the IMF, ending as resident representative in Guinea. I also worked as country economist covering Estonia, Azerbaijan and Russia as well as working on policy development and country programme reviews — Fate brought me back.

You’re an economist, Dennis. What’s your take on Jamaica’s economic situation?

Muddled and reflective of persistent unwillingness to take hard decisions.

What advice would you give to a graduating class of economics students?

Use the logic of the discipline to question all things.

Were you the minister of finance, what would be your three primary areas of focus and why?

1 Get every public agency to identify 10 things they committed to do in the last budget and which they did, and reasons for any not done. Reduce their budget by 10 per cent for every item not done.

2. Cut the budget for public vehicles: no minister or civil servant is to have a personal luxury car or SUV paid for out of public funds; a standard saloon is perfectly adequate.

3. Implement quickly a flat tax and find ways to eliminate all tax exemptions.

Share with us the last book you read.

David Baldacci’s Second Chances. (It should have been ‘Split Second’.)

What cologne are you currently splashing?

Davidoff The Game.

What was your last retail splurge?

I don’t splurge on retail, but I bought some golf pants reduced by 70 per cent, and some blue Kenneth Cole loafers that were reduced by 60 per cent.

Share with us a few places in your travel black book.

Ottley’s Plantation Inn, St Kitts; Guinea’s Fouta Djallon; The Seychelles, Westminster Bridge in London, which holds a lot of personal, historical and cultural significance; and Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway.

Take us to 50 years from now. Which countries will be the economic forces to be reckoned with and why?

I don’t do forecasts. But, for fun, Brazil and Nigeria, both of which have physical size, population, natural resources, and creativity to challenge industrial powers.

Only connect: put people, things, ideas together and let them work to their conclusions and solutions. It’s about not being over-prescribed.

How would you define economic success?

A nation of happy and contented people.

What’s your favourite restaurant in Kingston and why?

689 by Brian Lumley. I love Lumley’s embracing of Jamaican food and making it exciting to eat and look at.

What’s your beverage of choice?

Coconut water.

Finally, what’s your philosophy?

Only connect: put people, things, ideas together and let them work to their conclusions and solutions. It’s about not being over-prescribed.

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Nothing to laugh about: JUTC is a pain in places other than the pocket

If I could draw I’d have etched the cartoon Clovis did earlier this week.

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It’s been the economic and political story of the week. But, its root is in the economic and political problems of Jamaica. As I wrote yesterday, it is bizarre that a party that says it’s championing the poor hits ordinary and vulnerable citizens so hard while they and the country are in dire financial circumstances. My gut feeling is that this is classic hakuna matata, going after the low-hanging fruit who are those who are captive consumers.

The government knows that most bus travelers have no realistic options. So, they will have to bear it, grinning or not.

Attitude counts a lot in governance. The arrogance of policy makers is quite apparent in the way senior citizens were treated. But, this is apparent also in the response of JUTC to losing the initial fare rise. We were informed by Rev. Roper that it won’t matter much to revenues, about J$100 million, and JUTC will still break even and won’t need extra funding. So, the old people were really being soaked.

Pouring it on us. Poor us!

I have no knowledge of life under various Jamaican governments beyond the past 14 months. But, I have seen a lot of different national governments in action. How Jamaicans see the world and what that does to decision making is important to understand.

This week, we’ve seen again a failure of a government policy measure from its announcement, this time, a large increase in urban bus fares. The size and nature of the change would seem to warrant at least sensitivity for the plight of some of the most affected groups. Children and the disabled are due to face 50 percent increases. Senior citizens were due to face 200 percent increases. Adults are due to face a 20 percent increase. Only this last group have anything like regular wages, in general. The other groups face severe constraints on income and earning capacity, with many pensioners notably on fixed incomes. Yet, the government did nothing to bring any of these groups on board before the proposed increases.

The government even went as far as to disregard a formal requirement to consult with civil servants, as part of an agreement to abide by a wage freeze over two years.

One result of this disregard was a widespread howl of opposition. The political opponents yelled that they would lead street protests the day after the increases were due to take effect.

The civil servants wanted to understand why their agreement was ignored. The minister could give no answer.

Pensioners wrote and complained. That led to a hasty meeting yesterday, after which the government agreed to only a 100 percent increase for fares on senior citizens. That’s still hard to bear, but better than double the rate.

Just over a year ago, the ruling People’s National Party celebrated its 75th anniversary. Then, the PM reminded her party faithful of their legacy to protect the poor. Notably, she said: “During this difficult period I will do everything that is possible to ensure that we protect the interest of the poor and the oppressed, because it has always been a part of the People’s National Party’s administration, and under my leadership it will be no less.”

The PM talks about ‘joined-up’ government, but all we see is a government joined together to impose hardship on the most vulnerable. How does the PM say in one breath that she’s the champion of the poor, yet her ministers take actions that make people much poorer?

We saw earlier this year the botched attempt to soak the population through a bank tax. Again, the views of important agents were not sought beforehand, and being ignored they let it be known that the measures wouldn’t fly. Result? Back off. Introduce another set of measures. Thinking through the introduction of harsh financial policies seems to be a major challenge for the government.

If leadership means anything, then it should have followers. Ministers present for Cabinet approval measures that contradict the mission identified by the PM. Is she unaware of what she’s party to approving? Does she see these measures as indifference to, disregard and contempt for, the poor and disadvantaged?IMG_1474.JPG How does she reconcile her championing of the poor and measures that seek to make their numbers more? The obvious joke is too close to being true: she loves the poor so much that she wants many more of them.

Ice, ice, baby. The bucket list lengthens.

The phenomenal financial success that has come for research work to treat ALS as a result of the ice bucket challenge has been tempered in Jamaica and other countries with stretched resources by the fact that we have little water to waste. But, though we are in drought, the fact that US$41 million has been raised so far this year for the cause, compared to a mere US$2 million during the same period in 2013, is amazing.

The concern about wasting water in Jamaica is right and proper, but it is like many things where you have to think whether a greater good can be served by doing what seems to be against the right behaviour. Sure, it made little sense for a government minister to do the challenge in her office and with her computer at risk. It just looked careless: acknowledge that a bit more thought was needed there and move on.

Clearly, some people are just interested in publicity for themselves and the ALS researchers benefit from that. Of course, so-called celebrities get enormous publicity and that serves them well. But, being dunked in ice and water has led to much wider awareness of a serious problem, and raised money to fight against it.

In many senses, the challenge has gained from being first. Ironically, the challenge did not start as something in support of the ALS Foundation. Other good causes may be able to copy but the ice bucket idea is now likely to stay associated with ALS. Perhaps, the next challenge would be a cream pie in the face idea. The fact is people are being asked to do something that is personally uncomfrotable and raise money in the process. There’s no shame in not doing the challenge, because you are supposed to donate anyway. Many have taken the challenge and donated. Position and protocol have come into play. The US state department has banned diplomatic service staff from doing the challenge.

I think Jamaica can find a happy medium of supporting and being mindful of our drought. The water involved is a drop in the ocean. It’s also not a constant misuse of water. If we are going to rail against waste, then let’s show that we care about water conservation ALL the time. IMG_1441.JPG

Yes, it seems incongruous that children can be asked to take water to school to flush toilets, while we have people using water and ice to douse themselves. But, they’re not necessarily competing uses of water. Stopping the challenges won’t get water where it’s needed, because our problem is as much about distribution as it is about volume. If we could truck the water used around the island to other places, we could make a dent. But, how much water are we talking about in total? A truckful? Five? We can’t fix that by stopping the ice bucket challenge activities, in the same way it won’t be fixed by stopping people from making tea or mixing cold drinks. Yet, the benefit that comes from the icy dousing is immense.

Yes, there’s a symbolic aspect to ‘wasting’ water, and we could have salved our conscience if we heard that desalinated water were being used, or brackish or undrinkable water. Then, we could raise other issues, such as hygiene.

If we really care about waste and the environment, let it not just show up as a reaction and then revert to our wasteful and careless ways. That’s hypocritical. That’s also very Jamaican. A country famed for not planning for its inevitable and regular problems is always looking for scapegoats. It’s found a few new ones.

Omar, what have you done? Joined-up government in action and Jamaica fare well?

Uuc
He announced yesterday that fares for the urban bus company, JUTC, will increase from next Sunday. They will rise 20 percent for adults, 50 percent for children and the disabled, and 200 percent for senior citizens (over 60). The rise for seniors is penal, even though it is in line with legal provisions that their fares be half the adult fare. Most of these citizens will be on severely restricted incomes, either as pensioners or as dependents with limited financial independence. They have suffered more economic mismanagement than the other groups so can feel the pain even more. They have endured the Independence years.

Today’s Gleaner has a good piece focused on the plight of the elderly in dealing with the increase. It also outlines JUTC’s financial plight. It’s loss-making. Spanking new buses, which now each bring in less revenue than before. Oops!

But, the transport minister has only attacked one side of its budget, the revenues. Oddly, that is reminiscent of what we see the current finance minister doing by levying new taxes and raising existing tax rates. The cost or expenditure side seems to come as an afterthought or done so feebly as to not warrant mention. For the public sector as a whole that may be a problem, but what of a corporation that has been deemed by the auditor general as having serious inefficiencies? We heard about frauds, inept maintenance processes, etc.

There’s something very Jamaican about this approach, having more than a little of the harsh beating that people like to think is both good for the body and the soul. Everywhere you look, makka jook you. In a week when another politician of the minister’s party has tried to help us understand what it is to be Jamaican, and pleasing to God, I shudder to think what other cultural education about Jamaicanness the government has in store. If you can’t hear, you must feel. Our proverbs are replete with good advice. We may be pleading to God, shortly.

No Jamaican who uses JUTC buses can afford the increases without making enormous sacrifices. Civil servants’ previous wage increases won’t cover them, and had been already eaten up by last year’s 20+ percent fare rises. Private sector workers have as tight if not tighter wage controls to suffer. We know the exchange rate slide has squeezed financial pips till they popped. School children may have some independent income, but are normally funded by their parents, so slug working people again. The senior citizens won’t have pensions increases even one-tenth of the increase. So, what, dear Omar, will they do? Grin and bear it? The PM’s love for the poor is shown by this? Those who joke that it means making more poor people are surely smiling. Going to the supermarket and feeling the people’s pain? Better get on a bus, too.

Opposition leader, Andrew Holness, wants to protest the fare increases. even if he alone stands in Half Way Tree to do it. My feeling is he won’t be alone. He can get a lot of political mileage from the issue, against a party who famously protested similar increases just a few years ago. No amount of pleading to ‘fellow Jamaycons’ or ‘my people’ should work. The question is, ‘Will it matter?’

Jamaicans are great talkers and huffers and puffers, and have been known to protest in numbers recently for big issues that threaten their daily existence such as…the ‘gay agenda’. As most of you know, the cost of living has skyrocketed since gay rights advocates have been given more publicity.

The IMF review team has been on the island over the past week doing its latest assessment of how the Rock has been doing as a hard place. The timing of the fare increase is, therefore, no surprise. Not that it’s IMF policy to raise costs, but the unbalanced budget still needs to be less unbalanced. First, get the best bang for the Jamaican buck just when many children will restart school. (Let’s wait for stories of children going to school but with no money for lunch.) Second, get some IMF buy-in to another measure to reduce the public deficit. Growth appears to be showing itself as the fourth consecutive quarter of positive GDP numbers was just issued. But, if it’s one percent, it’s a mosquito bite on the butt of an elephant. What is that itch?

I did not hear the minister’s announcement, but heard that the words ‘first world service’ and ‘JUTC’ were used in the same sentence.

IMG_1429.JPG Jamaica doesn’t have it. I read passengers being urged to get their Smartcards, through which payments can be made from September 1, with promised extra benefits. Hasn’t this been ‘on the cards’ for years? Delay? Cho! Listen, if the benefits are not extra credits on phone calls, forget it. First world transport services have schedules. Let me just check the one at this bus stop… Cho! Someone must have taken it. Let me check the JUTC website. Oh, my, the last fare increase was in 2010…. The other increases must be uploading….

First world services (FSS) include clear and timely announcements of service changes. What can I say? With that website trapped in time? In the Jamaican scheme of things, four days notice at a press conference is plenty. Ah so we dweet! First world services come with buses that do not have passengers crammed onto the drivers’ lap. I know it’s not true for every bus, but I see it enough on Mandela Highway in the morning commute. First world services do not have buses bursting into flames. How would you like your trip, well done or medium? Let me suggest no use of FSS with JUTC.

Many pieces of Jamaica are disjointed. I hear the PM talk about ‘joined-up government’, but have no idea what it means. Maybe, it’s more buzz than substance.

IMG_1430-1.JPGThis government has made life difficult for itself by failing to bring the population along with its policies. Its record of consultation is poor and it doesn’t seem to learn that this is damaging on many fronts. It smacks of fear…rejection is likely when it comes to harsh decisions, and each attempt to impose policies without consultation erodes credibility.

I think the groundswell of opposition will be strong against this measure and it’s too late for sorry.