My wife sometimes says I’m very negative about Jamaica. Naturally, I disagree: I tell her that I am ready to criticize things that are bad, as much as I’m ready to praise things that are good.
I’m no partisan, so I do not think, for example, that all things orange are sweet and all things lime are sour. I really dislike the tendency to circle wagons around members of a party in their defence when the case for criticism is clear. That’s just dishonesty. It’s also pea-brained.
I try to think things through and come to a conclusion.
I listened this morning to a man who found that the bulk of people were using unscientific thinking during the current crises of viral infections. He was referring to the stunning wave of misinformed and wrong information about Ebola: for instance, American people afraid of visitors from Kenya, which has had no outbreak. I can understand his dismay. But, I can also understand the situation of which he complains. That unscientific thinking is a result of lack of trust in a body of persons who have a mixed record, if you look beyond one issue. Even with Ebola, we have had scientists and ‘experts’ misinform the public. We also see ‘experts’ and workers in the field dong things that are contrary to advice given to the public.
Establishing and maintaining credibility are essential to making people follow advice.
Let’s get to Jamaica, then.
It’s said that a week is a long time in politics. So, what has a week given us, politically.
A senior government minister thinks it’s alright to make a ‘little’ joke about rape. Jokes are meant to make people laugh because of the images they conjure. What is the funny image of rape the minister was trying to craft? He couldn’t say. No surprise. Like murder, or abusing your parents, there’s nothing to make people laugh on the subject. Those senators who could be heard laughing after the remark have not been called to account to explain what they thought was funny. Should we spare them the embarrassment of trying to wriggle out of a crocus bag?
Just days ago, we learned that the National Housing Trust (NHT) completed the purchase of a tourist attraction, Outameni, for J$180 million. (Another J$110 million will be spent over three years to upgrade the entertainment facility.) The commercial venture had been a bust: too expensive, limited quality, etc. Then, up comes NHT, whose business is about providing housing, funded by contributions: ‘To add to and improve the country’s existing supply of housing’.
Its chairman was yesterday trying to defend the decision by saying it was part of an ‘holistic’ approach to development. That’s all wonderful…if he was head of the government’s planning agency. But, his remit is limited. He wriggled. Really, he stubbornly held his view about how this was important to put cultural features into people’s lives. Wunderbar! I imagined the dereliction in which many live. I read about agencies who’ve sought funding for group housing to no avail. I thought ‘what a load of twaddle’. The man wanted us to believe that this wasn’t a back door bailout? He talked about making money out of the purchase, and of reaping capital gains. My little head spun and thought that sounded like a speculative investment. But, what do I know? The story has a way to go, because the Leader of the Opposition has tabled a series of questions about the deal. Was it legal? Who benefits? We wait to hear. Over the past year, I’ve read and heard stories of people trying to buy land and seeking NHT help, to no avail. Now, it buys into the tourism business. Something is not right with this picture.
Our main urban bus company, JUTC, is a viper nest of corruption, seemingly rotten to its core. Almost every week a new scam or diversion of company resources is uncovered. Its chairman calls it ‘a feeding tree’. Working backwards, we heard of drivers tampering with speed controls so that vehicles could go at 120km/hour instead of 60km in the city. Why? To kill people, he surmised. The company’s buses are involved in a disproportionate amount of accidents. Last week, two buses collided, and one bus mounted a trailer truck.
Really?! We heard days ago about drivers skiffling funds through Smartcard promotions. I don’t take the view that the employees are the only problem. The management systems must have been facilitated transgressions, wittingly or unwittingly. Neither is excusable. So, bravo to Rev. Roper and Collin Campbell for their efforts as chairman and managing director, respectively, but no back-patting yourselves.
Jamaica is not unique, but it does some things in a particular way that tends to dissipate trust. If you were to ask me why I think that many public agencies in Jamaica struggle, I would do nothing more than look at who heads them. I see too often, for my liking, recycling of politicians or placement of party faithful. That is never a recipe for success. It so happens that the two entities I cited fit that bill. They are not alone. Politicos work in a certain way, and it’s not usually in the direction of good business decisions, but more in the direction of political expediency and granting favours. They also tend not to solve core problems, not least because their tenure is conditional on who governs. That’s not a good basis for developing trust and credibility. Any chance it will change?
I don’t know where to start with the running bag of confusion which is the government’s attempt to convince us that it is prepared to deal with the spread of viral infections. When the Information Minister said last week that “we are going to make mistakes” with Ebola cases, I thought ‘over my dead body’. Then, I realised that was a probability, if mistakes were made. For her to add that the media should avoid ‘sensationalism’ was a little too much to take, after the Minister of Health had weeks ago accused the opposition spokesman on health of being ‘alarmist’ about the spread of Chikungunya (Chik-V), and he tried to downplay that while it was ravaging his own constituency. Now, we are reaping the whirlwind of his thinking that alarmists were running amok. Last week, the PSOJ CEO spoke publicly about the estimated J$6 billion/0.5 percent of GDP loss of economic activity due to Chik-V. That, in an economy trying to see positive growth re-emerge. We read this week that a recent survey conducted by the Jamaica Employers’ Federation (JEF) on the impact of the current Chikungunya virusoutbreak has found that in the last three months there was a 93 per cent spike in absenteeism among employees at the 53 private sector companies that participated.
It’s hard for the good side of Jamaica to float into sight under the weight of instances such as those above. Much of the good is in what is natural on the island, but as I take that in every day, I have to navigate so many turnstiles that have been constructed as ways in to the bad. It’s really tiring for most people.