Can you hear the bugle blowing? Political issues are a mere side show

Almost a week ago, most of Kingston was awash with orange.

How green is my garden? Not at all! PNP Conference in full flow
How green is my garden? Not at all! PNP Conference in full flow

The ruling PNP was having its 77th annual conference, at the National Arena. Now, my take on much of Jamaican politics is such that it makes more sense to me to have the two parties compete on the track near the Arena (perhaps, in a series of sack, or egg-and-spoon, races–nothing too complicated, you understand), or on the netball courts beside the Arena (first team to score five baskets), or just simple tug-of-war, and decide that the winner of the ‘Political Games’ should lead the country for the next five or so years.

Much as I like to think about how politics and policies can be used to affect people’s lives, my general (call it jaundiced) impression is that these are not the things on which many politicians are letting their heads weigh. Maybe, I get that impression from the kind of deliveries that I hear so often. It’s perhaps unfair to the PM to single her out, but she does have a huge lead in the (t)racing stakes. Last weekend, she silenced her critics with one withering short phrase: “Shut up!” That’s it? No 10-point manifesto? Wow! “One Portia Simpson! There’s only one Portia Simpson! One Portia Simpson…” “Champion! Champion!” music-notes

We are not yet in the habit of holding politicians to account. In keeping with much of our culture, we love to run with whatever we hear, as if it’s truth that cannot be challenged. I’m not going to run with it, so to speak, but challenge what was said; so much of it seems worth taking a closer peek. I’m just going to look at a few choice phrases and pose some questions, not even bothering to go way back in time, but just using news that has come out at about the same time, or recently:

The PM said (my emphasis): “Don’t talk to us about progress. Don’t talk to us about work. We are workers, we are performers; we get the job done.”

  • Progress? How does one explain the clear environmental degradation, as shown by the (1) constant state of decay in national infrastructure, as shown by recurrent water problems and dams that should have been repaired or replaced decades ago, or (2) a waste management system that perennially puts at risk the health of much of the capital as it goes up in flames?
  • Performers? Perhaps, we live in a ‘mummers’ play, where all is pantomime, not real. (1) At the end of the school holidays, we see and hear of schools that are unprepared for the new academic year, because they did not address known problems from previous years, and consequently put at risk those who should be taking advantage of public provision. The case of Clan Carty High School sending home 600 students this week, because of lack of furniture (much of that reportedly damaged, long ago). (2) We have a public agricultural bank that seems to have been operating as a piggy bank for officers of the institution. Wasn’t’ transparency and accountability amongst the platforms on which election-winning promises were made? Backing up a little. (3) NHT and the Outameni fiasco.
  • Get the job done? I drive on roads that are patched several times a year, and each year, when the rain comes, the thin top coating gets washed away, and the pot holes reappear like perennial plants. (Just yesterday, taking the lightly trafficked road through Benson Gully, I saw the process happening in front of my eyes, as torrential afternoon rain fell, and the marl came out of the patching and started to roll along the roadway.) I must have missed a trick, in not understanding how this represents ‘getting the job done’. Getting fleeced, repeatedly, maybe. I know from personal experience about the regular shortage of basic medical supplies. It should not have taken an audit of the regional health authorities to unearth that fact is as obvious as a gumboil.  Union representatives (BITU President, Senator Kavan Gayle) put the risks in another light: He is reported to have said that these details are important in protecting health sector workers from the anger of both the public and their patients. (1) “Some workers we represent not only fear exposure to diseases while working in these facilities without protective gear, but every day they have to face the wrath of angry patients and relatives,”(2) “Workers, such as our dedicated pharmacists, fear the threat of legal action from patients and their families from issues such as the use of outdated medicines,”.

Whatever my personal political views, I would like to think that the media, would be able to at least mount some sort of reaction; it’s not just a job for a partisan Opposition party. When the ruling party president says that the party stands on its record of performance and renews its mission to move Jamaica “forward, onward and upward” that should be a wake-up call for the scribes. Hello? Anybody at home?

In the meantime, while meaningful analysis waits its turn, we can at least enjoy the bickering and back-biting that is going on in the ruling party. It’s quite a sight. As I said, earlier, maybe the solution to political fighting is to let people really fight it out. Sell tickets. Back your winner. Blow your vuvuzelas for Lisa, or Damion, or Raymond; throw tomatoes and seat cushions for Dayton, DK, or Lloyd. Let people pay good money, to see something entertaining. Let Flow or Digicel-SportsMax fight to buy the rights for the live coverage, and give us some good knockout entertainment.

Unite for a change? (Courtesy Jamaica Observer)
Unite for a change? (Courtesy Jamaica Observer)

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)