Caribbean Conference on Ageing, Elder Abuse and the Rights of Older Persons: Conclusions, and some observations

I attended this conference in Dominica (November 30-December 1), in my capacity as a director of the Caribbean Community of Retired Persons (CCRP).

The conclusions are clear and self-explanatory, and I include the official document here. Conclusions of the Caribbean Conference on Ageing, Elder Abuse and the Rights of Older Persons_Final.

As is often the case, the printed words barely reflect the emotions behind many of the points made. Many things struck me, as a slightly younger senior citizen. One was the reluctance of many politicians, who are themselves senior citizens, to stand squarely behind the concerns of, and policies to protect the rights of, older people. The average age of Jamaica’s current Cabinet is 60. That’s more than odd in my mind. Some participants noted how the elderly had become a strong and vocal political force in the UK in recent years. In that vein, it’s worth noting commentary about the Pensioners Manifesto in 2004 and a decade later how the issue of the political power of the older vote.

The obvious conclusion about the seeming indifference of older Caribbean politicians is that they are not suffering the same problems, notwithstanding the growing number of older voters. That seeming disconnection with the reality of a significant body of voters is not trivial. It’s also interesting if one believes that older people in households tend to have significant influence over others (younger people) in those households. Are politicians really just throwing away votes?

Another issue that does not get attention in the conclusion is the concerns about environmental change and the elderly. This is more than a little ironic given the recent experiences in Dominica after flooding caused by Tropical Storm Erika, and the many reports of how it had dislocated the lives of many elderly people and left many of them more vulnerable than before.

F is for Ethic? A regional aversion to work spreads

The ‘dismal science’, to which I am a fully-paid-up member has many failings. One of them is to focus on what we call ‘macro’ issues, such as ‘growth’, or ‘inflation’, or ‘productivity’, which are measured by the data that try to cover all of the activity within a country (or geographic space). When it comes to policy, we try to craft actions or incentives to move people to do things better than before. All of that is really to get us to a point where we are more competitive than others who want to play in the same sandpit. But, we sometimes miss out on the ‘micro’, individual stuff, to which most things boil down. Well, it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that we are all different and many of us don’t respond the same way to incentives. How that difference plays out is a complex set of considerations at the best of times, and, even more, difficult when Christmas cake and sorrel and sherry are constantly placed in front of the face and the lobes inside the skull are just focused on more “Yes, please, Grandma!”

Well, it doesn’t take rocket science to understand that we are all different and many of us don’t respond the same way to incentives. How that difference plays out is a complex set of considerations at the best of times, and, even more difficult when Christmas cake and sorrel and sherry are constantly placed in front of the face and the lobes inside the skull are just focused on more “Yes, please, Grandma!” One thing is clear from all that focus on macro, people don’t get what they need to do to make it happen.

Jamaica has its own set of economic troubles and dealing with them is harder, given our set of peculiar behaviours. If I were not in holiday mode, I would go off on a treatise about why talking about the exchange rate is less meaningful than some other policies, like getting people to understand at the personal level what production, service, and productivity mean. (For those not familiar with that trick, it’s what Donald Trump does by saying “I wouldn’t kill…”; it raises the prospect without having to say that you would engage in the act, and is well understood by listeners as meant to reflect your true underlying feelings.)

Sitting by a beach in another Caricom country, that is supposedly doing better than Jamaica, however, gives me the privilege of seeing what they do and what we do and wondering how they are ‘better off’ than us. But, before doing that, I’ll just note that we can fix more of our ‘wrong’ economic situation by taking responsibility for our own actions, at all times. We can fix more economic problems by ‘just doing our jobs’ rather than wondering if the exchange rate is going to move by a few cents today.

Back to comparative economics.

My wife (a native of this little place we will call home for a few days) seemed dismayed when we arrived at our lodgings in the early evening to find the security guard at the front gate fast asleep–head rocked back, and mouth gaping. Wag, that I am, I yelled “Boo!” He did not budge. I pressed the car horn, and he stirred. He then pressed the button to lift the barrier and let us in. Much head-shaking from us and a moment for two economists to ponder. Moments later, I headed to the front desk to get our keys and collect my golf bag, which had been left earlier. Hello! The receptionist was also fast asleep. Now, given that this was Sunday, at 7.30pm, I could see that post-prandial torpor after the usual heavy Sunday lunch was endemic. I called out; my man stayed fast asleep, head lolling over onto his shoulder. I snapped his picture, remembering how once I had found our security guard asleep and he’d tried to convince me that we was awake but just resting his eyes. I called out again; he roused: “I know how this looks…” he started. I put up my hand and said: “Stop! Just acknowledge what was real and let’s move on.” He wouldn’t have it: “I’d spent a long time dealing with some technical issues…” I shook my head: “You. Were. Asleep!” He tried one more denial. As the three denial thing is well-rooted in our spirit, I let him talk. He gave us directions to our rooms, and then proceeded to follow my wife as she drove, while I walked: “I really want to apologize for what you thought you saw back there…” I turned back to look at him and gave him a short lecture on accountability. “But, I wasn’t sleeping…” I shook my head and walked to our rooms.

We have many problems with what others call ‘work ethic’.1994-02-10 We have some old baggage that doesn’t help, with our slave background, and the whole confusion between service and servitude. But, as my wife said, “When you’re on the man’s job, you need to do the man’s work.”

Some of us have gotten spoiled and confused by what we see around us and not well-understood that few people have become wealthy or even comfortable in life without hard work, even blood, sweat, and tears. It’s odd, given that many of us have near relatives who live their lives by these tenets, as farmers. But, though it’s not the general route, many are tempted by ‘get rich quick’ options. In Jamaica, we’ve taken this to extremes with our love of ‘schemes’ to take money out of others’ pockets. In other islands or territories, we see that people have locked into ‘gambling’ as their preferred route. Where we are, the annual givie aways by the gambling companies is well underway for Christmas as a few houses are handed over to ‘winners’.

Driving home last night, the biggest number of cars we saw, parked or idling, was for the drive through for fast food outlets. The next largest number was for the ‘web cafes’, which are fronts for ‘numbers’ rackets: if you feel lucky, get onto Island Luck. To me, it’s no surprise that, in Jamaica, Supreme Ventures has become a ‘successful’ business–with net profits up nearly 50%. In the books of economists, this would feature as a significant contributor to growth. What the economic activity is would tax many a good mind, but, we’ve plenty of days of holiday for that.

But, working to get along in life has become illusive.

Perhaps, one of the New Year resolutions that our region should make–and keep–is for every single one of us to try working hard and seriously the whole year, through. If you think you need a ‘czar’ to oversee that venture, knock yourself out!

Climate change and Jamaican politics: The future is not in good hands

Excuse me if my mind doesn’t think in straight lines. The world has just been treated to the so-called ‘COP21’ summit/forum, and sustainable energy use. Now everyone, who isn’t out playing golf is parsing the agreement and wondering if it will make a difference or would it just be another piece of bureaucratic hot air and waste of paper (hopefully, not, as the document was in PDF form and only available online?). In our little corner of the planet, the Caribbean, we’re often blissfully ignorant of the bigger issues that major countries are focused on or actions that they take that may have detrimental effects on us. We tend to get riled up if one of our citizens gets caught up (and then we rale about “How badly they treat us…as if we don’t matter…”), but otherwise we look on a bit goggle-eyed.

So it is in Jamaica, where no election was called before Christmas–as the government had teased us to believe it would be–and instead we are now in the season of incessant electioneering. One feature of this that has struck me is the ‘fickleness of youth’ factor that seems to be a dominant theme. In part, youth (as represented by candidates or elected MPs) has been treated sort of shabbily. Look at the ordeals that have been endured by some of the more notable representatives of that cohort–Lisa Hanna, Damion Crawford, and Raymond Pryce to name a few who are in the government’s ranks. Whether one likes all they do or not, they represented one end of the political spectrum (the other being closer to the Jurassic Park end). That image is not one new to the governing party:

Screen Shot 2015-12-15 at 10.01.21 AM
The PNP and its leadership as often portrayed (Courtesy: Clovis and Jamaica Observer)

Nor is it one that they like, particularly. But, politicians become extraordinarily thin-skinned when the needle comes close.

Now, in fairness to processes, some of the young elected MPs have not done credit to themselves, and whether it’s a ‘shell game’ or other kinds of trickery, they’ve ended up biting the hand that feeds them (even though they said they were not into any feeding):

Damion
Courtesy: Jamaica Observer

You just don’t help your case by not being able to speak with a clear voice.

But, it’s that aspect that leads me to think about ‘climate change’. That ‘voicing’ of opinion is part of the lexicon of politics. Jamaican politicians are good at airing their opinions, so much so that the registering of hot gas emissions over the island has reached record levels in the past six months. (I requested the data from NEPA under the Access to Information Act, but the usual delays mean that it’ll be a few months before I’m told that it’s not available due to some Officials Secrets Act restrictions.)

Enter again fickle youth, this time in the guise of one Dwayne Vaz. Well, he’s now famous for inciting a crowd from a party political platform with the near utterance of the ‘g’ word, and the playing of a song from the infamous ‘Vybz Kartel’.

Vaz
Courtesy: Jamaica Observer

Unwlling or unable to see the danger and folly of ‘going there’, public opinion has ganged up to show that this is not where most people want to see political rhetoric heading in Jamaica. Let’s leave that to the so-called ‘land of the free, home of the brave’ and we have no need to trump that country on that count.

I guess, fearing for his political future, young Dwayne did not want to see the painful consequences of any ‘Vaz: Hector me?’, so cut his losses with an apology crafted right out of ‘Law Student Tomes 101’ (where else does one find phrases (my stress) such as ‘I also made it clear in my presentation that I was in no way blaming anyone for the fire and so any coincidental or misunderstood conjoined comment about weapons…’?)

While, this hot air rises above the island, we note that the ruminating leadership has been exhibiting that deadly silence which borders on condoning what was said. So, as with COP21, we have to wonder whether there is any real hope for climate change.

While I understand that flags may help to light a spark under the tinder dry political rivalries that exist in Jamaica, I’m honestly more worried that ‘learning from your elders and betters’ is going on in such a way as to hold little hope that youngsters will kibba yuh mouth and not actually light fires.

 

Living through purgatory: The election is still far away

It may be overstating things to say we are between Heaven and Hell, in Jamaica, but it feels that way.

Purgatory
Waiting for what, exactly?
Christmas is a few weeks away and most people’s minds have turned towards celebrations during the season. The governing party’s main electioneering honchos had given a clear indication that, though national elections are not due officially till 2017, they thought that having them “sooner rather than later” would be good. No one less than the Finance Minister–who is also the PNP’s Campaign Director, so no mere ‘bit player’–made it clear that, left to him, early elections were the order of the day because ‘uncertainty in the political domain tends to trigger speculation in the commercial sector, which is not good for the economic environment in which Jamaica is operating’. Now, Dr. Phillips was clear that the decision on timing was not his, but the PM’s prerogative. However, Cabinet members and election campaign top men don’t usually go out on a public limb unless they have the backing or the clear signal that they will not be walking off into space and falling into the abyss with their remarks. That the PM needed to be ‘touched’ and has not yet received the ‘signal’ is now the stuff of both mirth and consternation.

Now, I’m not saying that nothing but the economy matters, but without the economy in good health, other things don’t matter as much. The Finance Minister put the risks of delay so, in mid-October:

  • “The more you will find that people are going to start speculating, hedging their decisions on whether to invest or keep their money in foreign currency rather than local account,”
  • “It can threaten to derail what is still an important course of economic reform that we have to go through.”

He added that the private sector was not looking for any long election period, which tends to have a drag on business activities. So, what do we have?

Having teased the population with the idea of elections before year-end–and let’s not play games and pretend that the coquetry was not with such a proposition in mind–but then, not being ‘touched’ to call the event, the economy is now in a worse position than would have been the case. We now have more uncertainty, with no near-term date in sight, if you take ‘next year’ to be as long as it can be wide.

So, people are floundering, still unsure of what they should do–just as the finance minister feared. For what benefits?

One of the unerring features of the current administration has been a singular, or is it multiple (?), inability to get messaging right. Dr. Phillips made clear that “It is our responsibility as an administration to communicate it [economic issues] better.”But, that need stretches across all fields and just isn’t there.

I revert to this question again and again. What does it mean to talk about ‘joined-up government’ when you cannot get the pieces to join up?

In the meantime, we are saddled with what seems like more hot air dispensation about things that really don’t matter to most people. Sure, there are issues of transparency about the finances and assets of people in public life, but don’t burden me by trying to make Mr. Holness’ and his new house the pinnacle of that issue. Every MP declare his assets and liabilities, and just put away the posturing.

cocks
“Who you calling ‘Cock’?”
Like cocks preparing to fight and scuffing up dirt, is how I see much of the maneuvering.

If you’re waiting for some clear position on issues, then I suggest you go to a bus station in your town and wait for a Coaster to Timbuktoo, because they are as frequent as such matters of substance. What we have is a drawn out period of electioneering–exactly what was not needed.