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? 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.