Jamaica is getting ready for elections. Nothing has been declared, officially, but positioning and posturing suggest that soon that will be changed. Legally, they are not nearly due, but the Westminster system doesn’t thrive on fixed dates, and the party in power has the privilege of choosing a date of its convenience.
The ruling PNP have better chances of winning if the economy improves under the current IMF program. However, the electoral benefits of that are clouded by the fact that few people can point to experiencing better conditions under the program.
The opposition JLP is busy playing in the sand pit and waiting for nurse to come in with pacifiers and a fresh set of diapers. They’ve done previously little to act convincingly like a government in waiting. “Miss, Everard just threw more mud at me!” I’m surprised our local cartoonists don’t depict them all in short pants. Betraying my years in England, they remind me of dark versions of The Bash Street Kids.
Officially, growth remains anaemic and with that people’s incomes and job prospects have shown little improvement, if any. Some government ministers have been doing cabaret turns as they sing and dance about the next great hope, the logistics hub. But, if ever there was a deflated balloon at a kid’s party, that was it. The recent farce over Krauck and Anchor says so much about how wrongheaded government has been in Jamaica: servings of vague promises, topped by flaky proposals, and drizzled with wisp of unfulfilled actions.
Prices are reported to be declining but many don’t see or feel this: utility and transport costs have risen for most people, and these largely unavoidable costs colour most perceptions. Food prices, too, are higher for most people. Drought over much of the past 24 months have hit local agricultural output. Exchange rate depreciation has pinched many pockets with its impact on the prices of imported goods.
Economic indicators like net international reserves and the debt ratios are the stuff of yawns and shuffling to the fridge to pull another beer. So, crowing about their improvements is like telling people covered in bites and still aching from Chik-v symptoms that the mosquitoes seem to be biting less. “Oh, really?”
I’m struck by what seems like a self-evident truth about Jamaica. The population does not expect governments to deliver much by way of policies that will deliver economic improvements and meaningful social changes. These may happen, but often despite government policy rumblings.
Administration missteps are part of the constant drudge of life. Poor public infrastructure burdened by inept actions to address evident weaknesses is more the norm. Our brightest and best are not leading the country politically. Rather, a sorry band of misfits spend months going little that could equate to advancing the public good.
What then is the political bargain that has been struck between elected political representatives and voters, given the low expectations? For many, there is no bargain: they took their chips and are not playing at the table of ‘vote for a numbskull’. That group contains s lot of the country’s better educated people. For others, the bargain is about ‘our turn to raid the larder’. That largely means dribbles of political favours flowing to selected communities. In the absence of a vibrant economy, you’ve few ways of getting gains-unless you indulge in crime.
So, who’s buying new clothes to go to the next electoral dance? Fewer and fewer, we know, and dim and dumber, we know, too. And, if the true bargain is with the mass of undereducated and unemployable, what drive does that put behind and set of policy proposals?