Don’t be surprised by the obvious: roaming and data charges and mistakes

My young daughter is probably tired of my telling her to not be surprised by the obvious: it’s what you can avoid and for which you can be prepared. So, why is it such a widespread affliction that Jamaicans suffer? Cases submitted as evidence.

The junior foreign minister is using high roaming and data charges as reasons why his cell phone bills are high. “Hello, Arnaldo?” This is a known known, in Rumfeld-speak, and you should avoid it tripping you up like the plague. So, I humbly submit, the ‘explanation’ given is nothing of the sort: ‘The concern of Jamaicans is fully understood and accepted, and without more information, I know the impression that such expenditure may convey. I acknowledge that the bills are very high, largely attributed to data and roaming charges. However, it is important for everyone to know that these bills were incurred genuinely as I carried out my work and because of the high cost of roaming for voice and data services. In going forward, I intend to put in place measures to ensure a reduction in the cost of these bills.’ The reason is that he ignored that these charges would be incurred and had the comfort of not having to face them, personally. Self-justification of excess is not a good reason for excess. Perhaps, a little meeting with someone at LIME or Digicel is in order so that the minister can understand how these obvious charges can be avoided. Better still, let’s check off all the numbers and get a payment plan in place to reimburse the State. Seems harsh? It’s the people’s money, buddy.

Now that the fan is spreading detritus all over the place, other ministers are looking to get rid of their government-issued cell phones like shares in Tesco.

But, I get a better understanding of why the young man may think this is alright. Read what one of his seniors uttered, yesterday, on the matter of Ebola preparedness. Senator Sandrea Falconer, Information Minster, said mistakes will be made with Ebola cases, if they come to Jamaica. She went on to ask the media to “avoid sensationalism”. Well, that’s a mighty sensational remarks. You can avoid panic in many ways; this does not seem to be one of them.

As many are pointing out, US president, Obama, said exactly the opposite: “we cannot afford mistakes when American lives are at stake”.

Is it a question of the true accountability–or lack of it–of the Jamaican political system? I can’t say.

Perhaps, the tendency to be the loose goose and sloppy in politics comes from some deeper process. Taking care to give the right reasons and arguments is something learnt from long exposure to critical assessment. I guess if life has shown that bluster and a few nicely crafted words that have little substance gets by, then why change?

Stupid money redux. Who’s fooling whom at JUTC?

JUTC has little idea of how to do some simple financial controls. Surprise! We hear of another fraud. Why? Drivers are allowed to intercede in financial transactions involving promotional fares and electronic cards. I know…the temptations are obvious. The drivers couldn’t resist and an audit showed the obvious.

Separation of functions is a basic financial control tool. It’s usually obvious what to do, such as not having people making ordering decisions to also write checks or pay money. Small firms are constrained, but not large enterprises.

So, why doesn’t JUTC do these obvious things? A cynic would jump at the collusion argument. Who, exactly, is colluding may soon come to light.

In other countries, where cashless systems are mixed with cash, or it’s cash only, the cash box is locked, and/or a turnstile is in place to count passengers and then see that cash collected corresponds.

Checks and balances are not hard to have in place.

An acquaintance complained yesterday that a bank teller couldn’t complete his credit card number from that position. The information had to come from another department. In banking, it’s a standard separation that protects customers by preventing unauthorized transactions on their account. Small inconvenience, for bigger security.

One great thing about tracking money trails is that the footprints are often hard to cover.

Cellphonegate? Time to look at the economics of corruption?

Jamaicans are getting excited by some routine disclosures about the use of government-provided cell phones. This may turn out to be a storm in a tea cup. However, the excitement comes from the fact that we get a glimpse into the lives of those whom we elected to govern and how they take care of our national resources. We get enraged when we see signs that they are ignoring who foots the bills–the taxpayers. We get really incensed if we feel that our money is being used frivolously. During times like these, when the nation is being urged to make economic sacrifices, we take it badly if our governors seem to making no sacrifices. Living off the people’s backs is never a strategy for staying elected in a democracy.

My thinking is always governed by my training as an economist. I often look at opportunities to exploit. Incentives are often to blame for this. One does not need to be a really bad person to exploit. It’s about what incentives govern your behaviour. If no one checks what you do, you tend to act to excess. Parents know this well regarding children. We urge them to curb their excesses. By the time they are adults, we hope they have learned the key lessons.

The cell phone saga, if it becomes that, has many simple explanations, and none of them need be corrupt. They may reflect a lot of carelessness and few checks and balances. We’ve often been surprised by huge phone bills when we travel abroad, and did not know or understand roaming charges. But, we only need that to happen once, and we are very careful next time. Or, we set up arrangements to avoid the worst effects. All of that applies when we are personally responsible. But, if we are not held to account, the sky may be the limit.

I suspect we will find a good amount of this. Senator Nicholson should not have to ‘confront’ his junior minister, Arnaldo Brown, over high phone bills. He should have been aware and had in place a system to monitor or curb any perceived excesses. Now, it’s time to close stable doors while his colt has bolted abroad again. Likewise, the junior minister need not be coy about explaining his usage, even while he’s abroad on government business: he should know how to justify it. Surely, he’s not surprised?

Maybe, that’s it. The government officials are getting tripped up by the obvious. Why? Because, no one made them care about how they used public resources.

A good editorial today in the Observer, pointed out several issues still to be resolved, including the context for the latest bills. We may be seeing the bills at a low point, after much higher costs. We may be seeing them at a time when ministers were engaged in conversations or activities that are all justified, but costly to be done by phone.

I’m not prejudging. I’ve had to explain high phone bills, especially during foreign travel, and fortunately was well aware of their possibility so armed myself with good justifications. I also was savvy enough to understand cheaper options and get them in place: I think I was one of the first users of Skype at my institution, back in the days when satellite phones were all that worked well from the former Soviet Union.

When the dust settles, will wages be garnished as a repayment plan is put into effect? If it’s found that significant amounts of usage were inappropriate, most of us would not expect resignations. That’s not in our political culture…yet. But, if one our corruption watchdogs starts barking about how this may be perceived as corrupt, tunes may change.

Maybe, integrity training needs to be part of the manual of lessons given to new ministers.integrity

The economics of corruption are not complicated, as an OECD study explained (my emphases): ‘For most economists, the root causes of corruption lie in the delegation of power. It is the discretionary use of that power and the often monopolistic position public agents enjoy when dealing with contracts which make corruption possible. The incentives and opportunities for corruption depend on the size of the rents, or the personal profit, which public agents can derive from allocating those contracts.’

I can’t take your call, right now. When government can’t run fast enough to stay out in front

Jamaica is not alone in being a country governed by more lack of transparency than is good for democratic purposes. Its problem, and one that faces many governments that are similar, is that the world is much quicker now to pounce on such opaqueness and take it to the places that the government cannot control. In years gone by, when communication was slower and essentially physical, it was seemingly less harmful for bad stories about government to reach the eyes and ears of the public. Governments might have had control over news organs and much of the available media. Nowadays, such controls are long gone, with the Internet providing speed and spread of information  much wider than the reach of government.

For that reason alone, it really pays government and public agencies to be ‘in front’ of stories, meaning that the bad news should not come as a surprise and the responses to them in terms of corrective action–if sincere–should be swift, clear and effective. That, however, if rarely the case. The government gets caught out. It reacts defensively. People add to their stock of distrust and government’s credibility takes a hit. Over time, the accumulation of that may weigh on the government and they get hammered at elections. The control of the political machinery may be such, however, that when the government loses credibility, it can still muster enough support to keep power. Now, I would be a naive little boy if I believed that such support was freely given in all cases and that no inducements–material, financial or otherwise–were involved.

Government may be happy to preside over shoddy public services because they tend to help maintain power by being inefficient and not much help in exposing government misdeeds because their records are poor and the cross-checks that could be provided are often missing. You see lots of evidence of this when certain activities occur that could embarrass the government, for instance, files are missing or get lost in the process.

Bad news is always there to seep out. Nowadays, however, it starts flowing like sewerage to the sea, and gets picked up and transferred and changed by anyone who has access to the Internet. Government spin cannot turn fast enough to deal with this.

Jamaica is now in one of those waves. Yesterday, news came out from an access of information request, about use of cell phones by ministers. It showed seeming abuse, in that huge bills were being racked up. One junior minister, Foreign Affairs State Minister Arnaldo Brown’s bill for the year was the highest, with a J$1.09m cell phone bill for the twelve months. For June this year alone, his cell phone was J$410,000. That’s so big compared to most people’s bills as to be unimaginable. All of this during a time when the country is being asked to make economic and financial sacrifices. One rule for the people and another for the privileged politician? Luckily, the said minister is travelling, but he’s due for grilling when he comes back.

The secret is for the government to be on top of these matters in the way that the public expects. Of course, one can imagine that official and private use are mingled, and people may find that the government has a system whereby only verified official calls are paid by public funds. I’ve been in a bureaucracy like that, and calls to non-governmental agencies were deemed private and on my dime. Of course, I could wriggle and cite calls say to contacts in private business, e.g. journalists, or academics, etc. But, it was a regime that meant one took care because scrutiny was real and the cost for misuse was real.

Do we have something like that in Jamaica? I suspect not, but would be happy to be proved wrong.

We tend to have politicians who like to act as if they are above most people and forget who foots the bill. I would love to see that stop and have no problem is curbing excesses in ways that make the pain for abusing very real. Pay your way, not live high on the hog.

Jamaica is not alone, as I said. Just a few months ago, a Canadian provincial deputy premier was hauled over the coals for racking up a C$20,000 phone bill, while on vacation: he said it was due to a potentially violent family dispute faced by a fellow cabinet minister.

How will our officials deal with the disclosure? Fess up and come clean on the true uses? Bluster? Beg for pardon? None of the above?

The eagles have landed

To bookend my weekend I should have written about my road trip back for Montego Bay to Kingston. It makes sense because I came back on a different route, taking the coast road all the way through Ocho Rios to Port Maria.

Sunday morning started in the middle of Saturday night. My host and I were filled with the glory of being in a team of prize winners in a golf tournament that we entered reluctantly.

Our intention for the weekend, all along, was to watch the celebrities play and support the daughter of a friend, who’s a very good junior player. We saw her do her stuff on Friday, at White Witch, and enjoyed being in the rarefied swirl of the celebs. Truth was, though, that not many celebs were there. Still, we took advantage of the walk around White Witch. We enjoyed the promotional non-alcoholic refreshments, and a very nice buffet of slider burgers, and some hand-made popsicles. It was hot and thirsty work being a sports fan 🙂

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Sliders for lunch at White Witch
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Lovely ladies from LiqyLiqy, and their delicious popsicles.

The Friday evening involved a swanky fashion show. We had neither swank nor fashionista aspirations, so we passed on that. We cooled out and checked out the many good quality golf balls we’d found in the rough areas of the golf course. Golf stories rarely start “I hit my shot into the bushes and never found it…” Jamaica is a place where many people make a tidy living scouring the bushes on golf courses so that they can rent balls back to golfers. This course doesn’t allow that, so golfers can get lucky and find for themselves.

Saturday began with our minds still set on watching. The number of players was much larger and the atmosphere was lively. One of the organizers asked if we wanted to play, but we were blunt in saying the fee was too much. End of story. Well, not quite. Incentives came into play. The young lady asked what fee would be acceptable. We told her a figure about 40 percent lower. She went away and soon came back to say we could play for a little more than that. However, we would not be able to attend the fashion gala afterwards. We were devastated but accepted. 😩

We then hustled to get our clubs and shoes. By the time we did all that, the organizers had found a fourth member for the team, a visiting Canadian, who lives in Jamaica during winter months–a snow bird. Off we went, like some of Snow White’s dwarfs. We were in good mood and with no expectations.

Well, we got to know ‘Mike’ from Canada, who happens to run a golf course near Toronto, which is now closed for winter. He was staying in Clarendon. He was using a set of borrowed clubs and the driver was not working for him. I happen to carry a spare in my bag, so offered him that. Mike found his game :mrgreen: “High ho…”

We started well and kept playing well, loosened up by our lack of care. The team format meant playing the best position shot each hole. We had two good players in my friends, me with my high handicap but very decent putting and mostly good straight tee shots. We had to use at least three shots from each player. We thought about how that should work and managed it to get the best from the long hitters. I did my bit with some important putts and a great tee shot on an uphill par three hole. We started to think about what score could put us into the reckoning; at least seven under was needed. We needed to start hitting birdies. We hit three on our first seven holes. Then, boom! We got lucky with a long par 5 hole, hitting a second shot that got a kick left to save it heading right into the bushes. The ball was about 15 feet from the hole, just off the green. I sank the putt. Pandemonium! High fives and whooping. It just happened by the Rasta who had sold me balls the week before, and I was using one of them. “Is a lucky ball, Daddy,” he shouted as I pointed to ball. All happy.

We rolled on. Playing really well, except on one tricky green, then capped it with one really good tee shot about two feet from the flag. Birdie! The group ahead of us were also whooping, so we knew things would be close. When we got to our last hole, a 500 yard par 5, we knew we were in good shape. It’s a hole where the second shot is over a ravine. I showed Mike the safe line and he hit a nice tee shot, so did my doctor friend, so did I. Three balls safe for good second shots. Our fourth player is a long hitter and he let rip. The ball soared left and then turned right, headed for the ravine, but it dropped on the hillside and rolled down safe. We decided to take it, even though it was in fluffy grass, as it left us about 215 yards. Our long hitter hit, and the ball caught in the grass, and hit the ravine, just 15 yards in front. The doc hit and the ball looked good, landing to the right of the flag, but off the green. Mike hit…ravine again. I hit, and my ball was heading to the left of the flag, but caught a bunker just short of the green.

We moved up. The ball sat in almost the same position as when we had made three on another par 5. I putted, just off the right. Up stepped long hitter. He putted, the ball looked good, looked better, looked dead right. Oh, yeah! We’d scored 62, 10 under par. Hugs and smiles as we rolled into the club area. Time for lunch and banter.

I won’t go into the rest too much. At first, we were placed third, but we are sharp and we checked the handicaps, finding that two were wrong. We got that corrected, and that put us tied for first place on adjusted score. We were second on gross score. First prize was a trip to Barbados, we heard. It was not for us. But, we got a gourmet chef dinner at home for eight people. Sounds good. Our long hitter won the closest to the pin prize. His daughter won prizes for her play on Friday. We were very pleased.

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Mike, playing like…

Father and daughter decided to head back to Kingston in the mid-afternoon, and gave a ride to one of our hard-working pros, who also coaches. Their lives are not like on the PGA, with private jets and swanky hotels, but on buses and spending nights with friends.

I stayed over, in part because my doctor friend was home alone. His wife was away, helping their children set up in a new home. His son is trying to qualify as a professional golfer. They had started playing at the same time, so life on the course has been full.

So, back to Saturday night. We chilled out in the afternoon, catching up on the day’s football, tennis, and golf. I planned to leave early Sunday morning. The doctor had a game scheduled, so was cooking his dinner, so he would have it ready for after his round. We laughed and joked about our day. Then, bed. I read for a while. I have no idea what the time was, but I heard the alarm go off. I lay in bed, listening; no sounds, no movement. I dozed off. I heard the alarm go off again. Same routine. The doc had told me that cats sometimes triggered the system. I went back to sleep. When I got up around sunrise, I exercised and then checked messages. “Officers are here…” I read, in a text message from the doc just after midnight. He explained that the police had come and found no problem, but wanted to make sure I was calm. I was very calm…asleep. We laughed off the non-event.

I grabbed my things and packed to leave, taking for breakfast a little of his dinner. The rain was pounding, so I planned to stay steady with the speed. The roads were clear and I found that I was making good time. I decided to avoid the highway, with its steep downhill stretch, because of the rain. I love the alternative route, through the countryside of western St. Mary. I was happy to take that. I saw hardly a car the whole way, and was home well within three hours. My family was still in bed, when I got home. It was Sunday, after all. I unloaded my things and just crashed. That was how I spent the rest of the day.

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Port Maria church
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From Port Maria towards Highgate, St. Mary
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Ital roots prepared by a Rasta whose bananas I bought, near Wag River, St. Mary

There’s a very calming aspect to Jamaican rural life. You feel it driving through the countryside and it stays with you while you’re out of the city. It’s nice to bring it home, along with a hand of bananas, or foot of yam, or sticks of sugar cane. It’s not often sampled by our foreign visitors. Poor them. Lucky us.

Jamaican miracle. Kiss of death?

This week, the IMF and Government of Jamaica hosted a conference/high-level forum in Jamaica on growth in the Caribbean, entitled ‘Unlocking Economic Growth‘. The agenda item that sparked my interest concerned energy issues, reliability and costs. For Jamaica, high energy costs have held down economic activity significantly. Aptly, the Gleaner takes the government to task on this in an editorial today.

No one can get very far without paying attention to the need for employment growth. Jamaica has had decades of economic stagnation, so needs jobs even more. Calls for much faster economic growth are becoming more common, and the PM weighed in on it during the conference. Let’s not be naive: the government would look great if growth accelerated and electoral hopes would rise for it as a result.

I’m a skeptic about how that can happen, with the base currently in place. One of the blockages is energy costs. We can’t be competitive enough to get 4-7 percent growth.

During the conference, Jamaica found itself in a new comfort zone: it’s become an IMF poster child. After the MD had visited in June and commended the PM for the government commitment to economic reform, now, one of her deputies says that it has performed a”miracle”.

IMG_0282.JPG“By our forecast, the growth this year will be stronger than last year and even more important, for next year the growth will be stronger than this year. Meanwhile, the fiscal deficit will drop to almost zero…so I think it’s absolutely a miracle. It’s a great achievement by the Jamaican Government,” he said. It sounds like hyperbole to me, but he’s said it now: two consecutive years of faster growth isn’t really a miracle. But, let’s just say the good air and lovely food in Jamaica got another one. 😉

Now, this unreserved praise from the IMF is a two-edged sword. It’s may be fine music to the ears of the finance minister, but it could also be the funeral dirge. The average Jamaican is unlikely to think that the depreciation of the local currency by 13 percent since the IMF Programme began in May 2013 (when the rate stood at about US$99) is the stuff of miracles. The MD had spoken about the consensus she found in support of the policies. I have no idea where that was located. Notably, Jamaica’s private sector has been amongst the loudest critics of the dollar slide. But, wasn’t it meant to help boost exports? So much of Jamaica’s production depends on imported inputs that devaluation hurts more than it helps, especially through the impact on imported oil prices. Also, our principal exports, tourism and bauxite/alumina are not sensitive to depreciation. The outcome is as clear as white rum.

For the past two months, we’ve seen the dollar settle at about US$112.70. Oil prices have fallen over recent months, so we’ve gotten the gains of that. Notably, for motorists, they’ve seen pump prices fall over several weeks. I’m sure some are tempted to fill up at these lower prices, needed or not.

But, can the government win by having the IMF royalty constantly kissing it on the cheek?

IMG_0281.JPGWe’ve seen the films and eaten enough of the pies to know that Mafioso mark for execution. Sometimes, kind words can carry the harshest sting.

All roads lead somewhere

Whether it’s the effect of having lived outside Jamaica so long, I love just driving through the country. I really don’t like long drives, though. But, since coming back some 15 months ago, I’ve racked up some miles. Admitted, my trips haven’t often been to far-off places or spots completely new. But, Jamaica has changed over the years, and keeps changing. One obvious change is the structure of roadways. The last decade and a half has seen the completion of new multilane highways. First, east-west feet wen Kingston and May Pen, and recently, north-south between Linstead and Moneague. These are toll roads, and the price gives faster travel and less congestion.

I’ve driven east-west many times, headed to Mandeville. Now, I’ve been traveling, recently, to and from the north coast. The new highway offers spectacular views across to Mount Rosser/Diablo, and the bauxite and alumina plant at Ewarton. image

The road has been much criticized for its steepness, but it’s not really a problem for most vehicles in good condition.

Highways are very different from other roads in Jamaica: they have no vendors. Instead, you get vista.

Nothing seen is ever the same, not least because time of day means different activities. I rarely drive these roads late at night, and enjoy the sights that come early in the day. School children walking and waiting for transport. Men walking with weedwhackers, machetes, saws–tools of their trades. Women walking for exercise, sometimes with a male escort. Loaded minibuses and taxis. Soup pots. Roadside eateries.

I often stop in Salem, by Runaway Bay at an eatery named ‘Jerkie’s’. A friend suggested it on one trip and they do a great Jamaican breakfast. Funnily, it’s across the road from a resort my parents used to visit, from the late 1980s, which had now been converted to a housing estate. The former cottages are now inhabited as homes. On one trip, one of my passengers went to visit his sister at one of the homes. I was almost sure it was the cottage we used to rent.

But, I stop for breakfast, not holiday recollections. Today, some Jehovah Witness ladies offered me copies of ‘Watchtower’. They wanted to offer me new government of my life.

I was well ahead of schedule, so decided to sit and eat. My homemade plantain tarts had gone well with my tea over the first leg, but I needed more to hold me. I ordered the regular breakfast, with salt mackerel. It was too much, but I was happy to carry half with me. I was likely to be out walking a golf course and it could be handy.

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Fast breaker; broken in two

It was about 9, and breakfast trade was brisk. I yearned for some hominy porridge to go with my order. No joy.

The Witnesses and I exchanged pleasant words outside before I headed on.

I much prefer the rolling country roads and find the straighter coast road boring. It’s all speed. The police know this and wait for fools to drop in. As I passed one checkpoint, I noticed a driver being frisked. Was he a toter? Maybe, his licence was stuck in his pants. It looked odd. Groups of vehicles were stopped at each such check.

The police focus on speeders only. All other road problems seem ignored.

As I moved along the coast road, I tried to see signs of tourism thriving. New hotel work has trucks and labourers jostling all over the place. The road is coated in mud. When the rain falls, the roads are a mess. I didn’t draw any conclusion.

Someone told me the airport was rammed with visitors. Were Americans fleeing their Ebola ‘threat’? Seems unlikely.

I never saw any sign of our dreaded Chikungunya. Sick people should be in their homes.

Our roads are filled with the able-bodied.

Our roadsides often look like a waiting room. We give the impression of idle living.

Bunting in the air. Let’s party with the people’s money.

If you didn’t know better, and most people don’t, you take what ‘big people’ say without much scrutiny. When that obsequiousness is mingled with political bias, your big person is right, and righter, whenever the other side see issue with what is said. The big person, if a politician, also, sometimes forgets that the world is not just the political sand pit.

So, let’s take a look at this Abu Bakr episode with that kind of viewpoint.

Minister of National Security, Peter Bunting, decided that this Trinidadian Muslim radical was not welcome in Jamaica. The obvious questions have been asked, such as “When did it occur to the Minister that Mr. Bakr should not be allowed in?” “If he was so potentially troublesome to Jamaica, why did we not make sure his nation knew this and our minister put him on a ‘no fly’ list?” The answers have been fluffy. Nothing was in place to bar the arrival of this ‘undesirable’. Let’s call that a ball dropped.

So, we don’t want him. That’s our right.

The Minister then wants us to believe the reasons for his concerns. He talked vaguely about links amongst terrorist groups. He added, when the matter of detaining Mr. Bakr was raised, that he was concerned he would radicalise those he may contact. You know, that sounds do flaky that I waited for the snap, crackle and pop of a bowl of cereal.

You really think in the age of the Internet, that people who are susceptible to having their minds bent are waiting for someone to come to change them? Hello! Such contact is limited and outdated. Ever heard of Skype or video conferencing? Why on earth would a keen radical have to wait for such a random direct opportunity? Why would he not have had his trained conversion squad working the ground already? It’s such a naive set of arguments.

Add to this, some political surrogates talking about ‘nefarious plot’, and we have to wonder if the whole legalization of ganja had a certain known effect.

Let’s hold that there.

We get to why Mr. Bakr had to be given the private jet ride for J$4 million. He reportedly became boisterous and uncooperative. Most Jamaicans must have wondered if our security forces had just come from the spa, and were so infused with good Karma that they were just stroking Mr. Bakr’s hand, murmuring that all will be well. What happened to the brutal force to which we’ve been accustomed? Where are our boys from Tivoli? One politician suggested putting the uncooperative one on a JDF plane and giving him the beef jerky inflight meal. We lost the plot?

This supposed bad behaviour was not enough for Mr. Bakr to be charged with an offence. Really? Which is it? That’s a credible claim? We couldn’t hold him a day or two and get him his 1st class seat?

The Minister has dragged a few red herrings across the trail. Home insurance analogy? Bogus comparison. The horse bolted and now the door is being closed. He insured nothing, because the real threat cannot possibly be so limited to one leader. Bin Laden killed. Al Qaida still causing havoc. Get the idea?

He alluded to Dudus and what delay did. Come on! Do better then that! More pertinent, Dudus went and violent crimes and gangs are still thriving. Just read about the latest east Kingston shootout.

We worry about foreign radicalization? We have rampant domestic criminalization. What’s the real scourge in our society? What’s more destabilizing?

The deeper issues are also about transparency and accountability. Why has the Minister not said who rented him the plane? It can’t remain a secret.

If the security issues were so clear and imminent, then why not say that, rather than inferring that something sinister may occur, if Mr. Bakr set foot in Jamaica.

It smacked of scare-mongering. It smacks of it, still. The story doesn’t add up. The dots are not joined.

Just a few stories. Jamaica has its eyes wide shut.

Jamaica is little stories.

If you just look at people each day, you see enough of what is Jamaica. That picture is very different to the picture I have seen in other Caribbean islands. It’s also vastly different from the picture one sees in most developed countries. Here are a few observations.

Morning time shows us how many people start their days. Adults walk young children to school. The people I see are always holding on proudly to their charges. Their faces do not exude hopelessness. Now, I accept that the impression I have as I pass people is not necessarily accurate reflections of reality. I don’t know their financial or social realities. But, the visual image is important, given that the future for those children is uncertain and lacking hope. Yet,…

During the day, I see people moving around. The common narrative is that Jamaicans are not law-abiding. Yet, most daily activity is not law-breaking. We are very loose with the application of rules, so it’s no surprise to see people doing things that reflect this looseness. For example, we have vendors where no vending should occur; yet, most of us benefit enormously from their presence. If some of the rules were to be applied, I argue that society would lose.

However, we want to feel comfortable with the idea that a certain honest and obedient strain exists in the society. Yet, past practices make us cynical when we see police stationed with radar guns or making ‘routine’ traffic stops. We see officers leaning on car windows and it’s a short leap to think that they are ‘leaning on’ the driver for a little ‘lunch money’.

These are aspects of how our society has developed. We get public officials who compromise on integrity to make more from their roles than the stated salary. They may not be in desperate financial straits, but they have less than they feel they need. Nurses, teachers, civil servants are often in similar situations. They face costs that rise as they try to raise their families; try to do their best; try to stay hopeful.

This morning I saw how some try to cope. A man in his wheelchair was trying to come up a hill in a residential area. I could see him in the distance…holding on to a motorcycle ahead of him. 😳 I asked the wheelchair rider if this was his usual ride. He said he just took the opportunity, sometimes. He then proceeded to ask me if I needed any work done. We have many looking to work, but too few jobs that offer pay. A constant search with a result that’s clear.

We’ve developed an economy that offers the mirage of economic hope. This week, the IMF is hosting a conference in Jamaica on growth. I’m not going to look at what its agenda is. Most countries need faster growth to deal with the current stock of unemployed people. Jamaica has had four decades of virtually no growth. I hear talk of our needing 4-7 percent growth to deal with our unemployment and take the country onto a much higher level of development. If wishes were horses…

Many Jamaicans live on the brink. If I were to believe Mr. Farrakhan, then ‘independence’ is what we need. Three million people, free to do what? Yes, we could feed ourselves, but that would suggest our focus needs to be on agriculture. That’s never been a recipe for growth, in itself. We could thumb our noses at the Queen and she could thumb hers back at us. Yah boo! Big deal. Jamaica has acted with as much independence as many countries of its size, in the presence of neighbours, who are much bigger and wealthier. We need to be free to do what? We can stop depending on others and be what?

Maybe, like Sekou Touré said, “We prefer poverty in liberty to riches in slavery,” as he told France, Guinea’s colonial masters, when he accepted the offer of independence. But under his own long rule many liberties were lost. Guinea is still struggling to recover from that.

Maybe, Jamaica has fallen into that mode, but not willingly, with eyes wide open.

Get what? Jamaica loves to poke itself in the eye.

Jamaica is full of people who act as if they ‘don’t get it’.

Yesterday, the nation celebrated its National Heroes Day. In keeping with traditions established by our colonial leaders, people in the community are honoured for deeds or services of note. It’s prestigious. But, a friend alerted me to something very distasteful during the live broadcast of the ceremonies. ‘Normal service’ was resumed. The broadcast was interrupted for the live drawing of the daily lottery. I’m sure that’s due to a contractual obligation. But, please don’t try to convince me that it has to be shown live. I don’t know if the broadcast was also interrupted to show scheduled adverts. Someone mentioned that similar interruptions had occurred during the broadcast of the state funeral for a Roger Clarke. Truly insensitive and dripping with hypocrisy.

During the weekend, Louis Farrakhan visited the island to lead his commemoration of the 19th anniversary of the ‘Million Man March’. He said a lot, which I did not hear live, or even rebroadcast, but read instead. He talked about how Jamaican governments over the years had not adequately built on efforts made by the country’s national heroes to create an independent Jamaica. I have an idea what he means, in terms of our not using the opportunity of Independence to forge for ourselves a clear path.

But, have we ever been really blessed with enough people who saw that to be free of our past, we really needed to start afresh, not just tack on to what we said we were leaving behind?

I’m a believer in the adage that you are what you tolerate. We are reaping that now, with out tolerance of filth and unsanitary conditions. Yes. we’ll have the usual funereal wailing about how government has let us down, and it’s our neighbours, and a whole lot of hogwash that denies personal responsibility. People will start to act for a few days, maybe even weeks, but enough of the habits are so ingrained that reversion to them is really easy.

I read a headline over the weekend that had me gasping for air: ‘Jamaica Too Dirty For NSWMA! Garbage Agency Short Of Money And Trucks To Keep Nation Clean‘. It was full of lamentations that more money was needed so that garbage trucks could be fixed. We generate approximately 1.6 million tonnes of garbage generated by Jamaicans annually. On any given day, only 110 of the 274 trucks needed to prevent a pile-up were available to the NSWMA, and Kingston and St Andrew need most of those trucks. The talk about needing more money is, though, a smokescreen. The money is not what’s needed. It’s management that’s been missing.

One cannot work straight from the individual to the collective. But, if my house is full of my accumulated trash, I do not need more money to get it clear. I need to stop throwing more onto the pile. Then, I need to start moving what I have amassed. The NSWMA management does not speak to the first type of action. So, it accepts (or leaves to others to address) the fact that we are nasty and careless people. It does not exhort the public to be more careful in their disposal of trash. It just wants more money to clear it away.

The move from individual to collective is important, because people have jobs dependent on clearing trash, and that means they want pay, and vehicles need fuel, etc. But, still, I say, the message is wrong. It does not start at the beginning, and it will end badly.

Sadly, that approach is symptomatic.