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

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.