Reading political tea leaves: Jamaica voters still ignored, massively, but who should worry?

Please do not insult me by talking in weeping tones about low voter turnout, especially, if you are a politician. It is no secret to those seeking elected office who is on the electoral rolls, and by extension who is not registered to vote. With that information, for any politician to not engage any potential voter points to the inherent corruption of our system of democracy. Strong words? Maybe.

I have been back in Jamaica just over three years, and I am a registered voter, never having had the opportunity to cast my ballot in the country of my birth. I have some of the excitement of any first-time voter. I need little to get me to go to the polls to cast my vote; I am a prime meal in the menu of electoral desires. So, let me pose a few simple questions to those who seem driven to make a living getting paid out of the public purse to represent me.

  • Do I need to tell you my political preference, if it exists? No! Assume I’m neutral.
  • Do you want to try to convince me to vote for you? You should!
  • Do you think you need to let me know, directly, who you are and what you have done or are thinking of doing? If not, why not?

Now, with those simple questions posed, where can I go?

I have not seen any political candidate darken my door for either general election in February 2016 or local government election in November 2016. That’s a disgrace in its contempt.

I wrote a blog post in February, entitled Just tell me if you love me: the outcasting in Jamaican politicsbefore the general election. I wondered if ‘I may not be who the representatives want involved at all’ because the politicians were interested in ‘keep them poor, keep them hungry, keep them under control’. I do not fit that profile: I am not hungry, literally, or for most of the promises that politicians may be offering. But, I do want something from elected representatives. I want my mind tested. I wrote those months ago: ‘The lack of willingness to engage people on substantive issues is one of the things that has made me wonder who is being feted in all the political hullabaloo.’ That thought still has relevance.

Many politicians show that they are afflicted by the national disease of low productivity and are work-shy: ‘the ‘work’ is talking to the people’. The current Opposition showed that they were little interested in any broad dialogue with the nation, even to the extent of crying off what might have been showpiece televised debates. They got a real taste of how well that went down, but being shown the door in February. Don’t satisfy yourself by saying it was by one seat that PNP lost. They lost by many voters from their own known party support staying indoors, whether to eat the curry goat or other box food that had been offered or just to tune in to ‘Days of our lives’.

Many parish councillors are similarly afflicted. But, unlike MPs, some of whose work is broadcast for us to marvel at, the workings of local government in Jamaica is a dark secret to many. Imagine what life may be like, if, as in many munipalities in the US, one could watch local access TV to see what local government is doing. Go check out the website for the City of Alexandria, Virginia, for example, and watch its archived video of meetings, including yesterday’s. Or, just check out it’s live feed that promotes the many attractive things that are going on in the city. Oh, you don’t have anything much of which you’re proud to show? My bad!🙄 

The other thing that was true last February and was re-inforced this month is the following, which I wrote nine months ago: ‘My suspicion is that the PM has gotten locked into a mode of only being passionate and verbose when riled and is not up for moderate or moderated discussion. Maybe, it’s an age thing: getting cantankerous. I can relate to that. Maybe, it’s some other physiological thing.’ Whatever I might have thought was behind that tendency to be cantankerous, I could not have imagined it would be directed at her own party! What kind of election strategy tells you that yelling about your fearlessness and calling out your party supporters in public for showing they disliked chosen candidates, and issuing barely veiled threats to them is a sure-fire winner? People in a constituency have a tendency to know who and what they want and what they think works. For the people? You’re joking, right? 

Usually, when people say ‘Have you lost it?’ they mean your mental faculties, but it can also be ‘the vote’. November 28 is proof positive, I would argue. Going from total control of municipal government, to ‘no count’ takes a certain skill, which I as a coach would not be teaching to any team that I hoped would succeed. I tell kids I coach: 

  • give yourself the best chance to win, not the best chance to lose; 
  • own goals must be avoided;
  • don’t attack your team mates; save that for the opponents;
  • remember what brought you success, forget what caused you defeat.

It’s not rocket science.

But, getting back to me, and not for narcissistic reasons. I wrote in February: ‘I want to be engaged, properly’. Then, ‘I want[ed] to know how PNP can step up the progress so my child can believe she has a bright future here. I want[ed] JLP to go further in showing me how to get from poverty to prosperity. I’m a product of both messages, after all.’

‘I’m waiting and I’m patient’, I wrote before the national election. That’s still the case. Except…

I am convinced that people like me are a threat to politicians. I can think, independently, and have little need for the spoils that politicians can share out to sway significant numbers. I’m a threat, not because, if so desired, I can vote you out, but if pressed I can plan to replace you. I may have no personal desire to be a politician, but I know many who do, and who are prepared to think about doing that outside certain existing party constraints.

No one lives for ever, and no group of politicians and political hacks lasts forever in a democracy. Jamaica is a democracy that has many strong-minded people who have decided to withdraw from voting, because they despise and distrust politicians and political processes that have promised often but delivered rarely. These are not apathetic people: they are antipathetic

The politics of poverty-maintenance and garrison building is derelict, like many of the structures in such places. Waiting in the ‘food line’ of political favours is demeaning to anyone who can think stand up for themselves. Like bushing offers no permanent solution to overgrown areas, trying to buy votes with ‘make-work’ schemes is a never-ending exercise, and the price has to keep rising. 

Those antipathetic voters are people who can move and shake in other walks of life and many have yet decided that they are not going to move and shake to the voting station. Some, I suspect, have seen their political will exercised in other, equally discreet, ways, say as funders of party activities. (Think back to the multiple campaigns going on within the PNP during the general election. Wasn’t that political power being exercised in ways as powerful, or more so, than the vote?)

Politicians who forget what representing the people means often end up in the same place, and it’s called ‘out of office’. Fine, if you have other skills, and have built up possible alternative work. But, ‘retired MP’ on a resume has a funky ring. Of course, some lose their position for the very reason they were elected, and that tells you that something is indeed “rotten in the town (sic) of Denmark” (to repeat a poignantly misstated remark).

Finally, the buck has a nasty way of stopping where it should. If you want to be a politician who dissembles and tries to sell the image of a ‘Nirvana-like’ state that you have created, yet people can see and smell and taste and wade through the squalour that really exist, then I suggest you find yourself auditioning as a stand-up comic. In that case, if the laughter stops, don’t be surprised by where people find the supply of rotten fruit and vegetables to throw.



Some takeaways from Jamaica’s local government elections

The votes have barely been fully counted, but there are many take-aways from yesterday’s local government elections, and many of them do not need much data to be clear. Here goes:

General take-aways from local government elections

  • The current Opposition, PNP, was in disarray for the national elections, played around for a few months after that doing so-called internal reflections, did little to change themselves or their message, and got a royal raspberry yesterday, losing overall control of parish councils, including plum locations like Kingston and St. Andrews. If Nero were wearing an orange toga, it would be clear what was going on, and that the party leader had her finger on the right button saying there’s”something rotten in the town (sic) of Denmark”.
  • Jamaican local government politics is a mere fig leaf for people’s notions of national electoral issues.
  • Those involved in local government are not going to advocate for change, as that is likely to make their political lives worse, not better.
  • Money matters, and those with control of national budgets should have the upper hand with regard to local government issues, and also the upper hand when it comes to guiding local government election outcomes. Only a blinkered mole would not see J$600 million spent ahead of elections as anything but thinly disguised vote-buying. Call a bushwhacker a bushwhacker! The gem this time was calling the elections in the period just before Christmas, when it could feasibly be argued that this was normal seasonal work. But, give my ailing brain a break with that empty rhetoric!
  • Local government has been serially denuded of real power over local outcomes as many implementing agencies are national and handle local issues as part of their logical geographical division of operations.
  • Local government needs a substantial base for raising local taxes to address local issues. I’m not sure that the national appetite for more fiscal burdens exist at this time, and also past performance gives little confidence that parish councillors are not money grabbing weasels, in general…with due respect to those who are merely rats sniffing out cheese–and we know the allure of cheese.screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-9-26-56-am
  • Turnout was low: preliminary figures indicate that about 30 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. But, that was no surprise, especially as indications are that the debates made many people less likely to vote.

Some thoughts on voting turnout

It would be nice for many reasons to see higher turnouts, but that won’t necessarily change things in Jamaican politics. One of our burdens is sticking with a first-past-the-post system, in a country where many people may live in so-called ‘garrison’ constituencies, ie one party has a virtual lock on certain seats, so voting against that party is often a wasted vote in term of results in that constituency. Winning by one vote with a 100% turnout isn’t different from winning by one vote with, say a 45% turnout. In fact, the first situation may be terrible, because it means that say 49.99% of voters do not get their choice, which is worse when that percentage represents a large absolute number of people.

However, if some forms of proportional representation were in place, votes would mean much more. Those who are really looking for independent candidates would have more reason for casting votes for such people if they knew that their aggregate voting could matter. Likewise, and more obvious, if you were in favour of the minority party in a garrison, but knew that your party’s aggregate voting was important, then voting behaviour ought to change.

I’ve said before that low turnout is not necessarily reflective of voter indifference, but possibly a large amount of voter antipathy. People see much wrong with political processes, including candidate selection at one end and what politicians do ‘in the name of the people’, much of which is shameful, if we are brutally honest. Many people do not want to be associated with that shamefulness. 

One of the pieces of theatre during the local government debates was really on point, when one candidate rolled out a ‘scandal list’. Imagine that capturing the imagination of people more than an ‘achievements list’.

Sadly, the latest election is another page of Jamaican politics which is really about scraping the bottom of the barrel. Politics is not to where our brightest aspire. We also suffer from the limited talent pool that exists, not just in politics, but in management and decision-making in general. Our decades of talent drain has taken its toll on our output quantity and quality, and our productivity, and politics has not been spared in that ‘race to the bottom’.

I’ve been saying it (Jamaica) must get better, soon. That’s not because I’m impatient, but because all things become habits, if done long enough. Mediocrity in politics is no exception.

Just monkeying around: scenes from a round at Apes Hill

Looking west to the ocean
Sheep grazing
Nice to look at, and better to not hit here 😊👍🏾🏌
View of new clubhouse
Reminders of the past: sugar mill

#Griefporn: Jamaican media exchanges ideas with the public 

I wouldn’t expect a three-hour public discussion to conclude too much about big issues, and so it was with last night’s session organized by the Press Association of Jamaica, and sponsored by the US Embassy in Jamaica. The discussion on grief porn was good and animated, and gave us ‘a raising of a number of relevant issues, a sharing of perspectives, a highlighting of some of the ethical questions/principles journalists can/should use to guide their decisions’ as my friend Susan Goff stated on Twitter. You can watch much of it here.

If we go with one of the definitions of ‘grief porn’ or ‘mourning sickness’, we have ‘collective emotional condition of “recreational grieving” by individuals in the wake of celebrity deaths and other public traumas. Such traumas may be linked to hyper-attentive, intrusive, and voyeuristic media coverage…’ (my emphases). That really sticks it to the media, and tends to see the problems as one-sides and feeding a reluctant eater. But, we know the appetite for such material is there, and sometimes almost insatiable. We should think about the unpleasant aspect of that reality for a while. I would adjust this definition for Jamaica to cover many instances of private trauma, which begs many questions about how much time and space must be given to those who want to grieve.

Answering some of those questions is only possible when one also considers how the society or elements of it see and treat death. Caribbean people (and many African cultures) do not treat death and dying and bodies in the same way that many European countries do. For example, we generally revere the dead body, death is celebrated (even to stress that it is a transition) and we do not shy away from looking at it. Just go to a regular funeral in Jamaica to see what I mean: coffin open for people to pass and look at the body. If this is not done is may be deemed a mark of disrespect. If people are late to view the body coffins can and will be reopened to all that viewing. So, it’s not such a big step to say that the sight of death in any form or at any time is not appalling in our society. But, that does not mean that portraying the dead can be done with wanton abandon. Therein lies the space for much debate.

Though much as discusses last night, I have several things still rolling around my head, both as take-aways, but also as unresolved issues.

Take aways:

Media coverage is full of class bias: That was well stated by Gleaner journalist, Erica Virtue when noting that ‘downtown’ (lower-class) scenes were often up-close and personal, while ‘uptown’ (middle/upper-class) scenes were from further away. Some of that reflected, in her view, better control of personal space, including by having money and other resources with which to thwart intrusion, whether that is the threat of legal action or the inevitable web of connections. Such bias also comes across in the language used. For instance, stating that someone or some school is ‘prominent’ is value-laden, and leaves us wondering if the rest of society or the education is just full of ‘no counts’. I can’t speak to the origin of this, but must ask why training doesn’t work as a better filter in pushing out such treatment.

Media exposure is high value: We know that people often relish being covered by the media, with television often being better than radio being better than print. Actions speak volumes, so the advent of moving pictures was a boon to the ego of the ordinary person. To be ‘featured’ is not a trivial thing to many people, as it offers many levels of social validation, and bestows, even briefly, some ‘importance’. As people say cynically about politicians, all publicity is good publicity. So it has become for the ordinary person. With the advent of electronic devices that can take and share high quality still and moving images, we’ve seen the birth of many previously hidden ‘stars’, as can be seen in some of the viral videos that circulate. But, another aspect of this publicity is that its value may be high for what we may see as wrong reasons–notoriety. In the world of criminals it may be that exposure of the results of crime has value that can be measured by the intangible of ‘bragging rights’. So, much like graffiti can be important to demonstrate reach of people or gangs, then the images or stories that are the outcrop of crimes can have cachet. We know of stories where criminals have bragged about their crimes on social media, even posting footage from the events in some bizarre instances. Read this article about how much incriminating evidence is posted on social media. I have heard of instances of perpetrators alerting associates to watch the news or read the papers to learn what they did recently. So, if the media are in the business of looking for gory stories or just doing their routine reporting, they can easily be feeding unwittingly the egos of those whom they do not know committed offences. This may seem perverse, but so what? Society is full of perverted people.

Unresolved issues:

Newsworthiness: Many times what is bothersome to the public is what passes for news. Joshua Polacheck, Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Kingston, lamented last night that certain important stories in Jamaica were pushed out of sight for other items that seemed less newsworthy. I noted at the time that not all newsworthy things can be reported easily, especially if the principals would rather avoid than encourage public scrutiny, now or later.  

Politicians are an interesting study, as they often crave publicity, especially when it’s favourable, but also show the other side when the media cudgels are flailing around to beat them with criticism. In that sense, certain topics are easier to cover (going back to my earlier point about the value that many place of being ‘in the news’).

But, an inconvenient truth is that ‘newsworthiness’ is not something on which we can all agree, and those ‘weighty’ topics that may have major social or economic or political implications often do not capture the public imagination. I would take a bet that people could cite more ‘gossipy’ things about the new US president-elect than they could about his policies, and I don’t think it comes down to which set of topics was covered more. In our neck of the woods, the recent rant by a party leader against members of her own party has more people gripped than by what is going on around the local government elections that what either party is hoping to achieve.

The five features of newsworthiness are listed as:

1. Timing–the new wins. Old news quickly fades in interest without something to keep it fresh.

2. SignificanceThe number of people affected by the story is important. So, in smaller societies, like Jamaica, that significance can be high for many events.

3. Proximity–Events that happen nearby have more significance. Again, in smaller societies, nearness is almost everywhere, and once things can be personalized that ‘nearness’ is even closer. 

4. Prominence–The ‘famous’ get more coverage

5. Human Interest–Such stories can stand the test of time, and revolve a lot around touching people’s emotions (hence, the appeal of dwelling on grief).

Grief is not just related to life and death in its usual form: I commented last night about how much media coverage looks to the highs and lows of life and events. That goes into many facets of society. I noted, for example, how sports reporters often draw no distinction in seeking out losers as well as winners, though the emotions of each is often very different. Losers are often in one of the early stages of grief, and really don’t need to have their performance examined in public immediately after not succeeded. But, just as the emotions are raw immediately after, so too in the media interest. We often see athletes holding back tears or anger when pressed in such circumstances; more so, when the trophy or cash prize that has gone is of major importance. To my mind, this is equally pornographic as far as grief goes. It may be much more appealing, of course, because you have the chance to hear directly from the ‘victim’. I don’t know how the ethics of media practitioners feeds into their treatment of subjects in various fields of activity. 

It was good to open the door to interchange between media and the general public. Some of what I heard as media policy seemed to be untested on the general audience, and as is often the way, may have some internal logic for an organization but can easily miss the mark when presented to customers. Part of the media’s problem, however, will be that the customers are not homogenous or consistent. 

I was not one who went into the session upset at too much gory coverage of death. I was exercised by how such things were portrayed, and had concerns about how the tension between relevant details and unnecessary intrusion was being resolved. I have a better understanding of that, but don’t see that the choices will be easier, especially as more people are willing ready to be ‘citizen reporters’ and ready to take images to make their own stories or offer them to others. 

Finally, I recall the movie Nightcrawler, which looks at how the search for the gory can become perverse beyond imagination. Take a look at the teaser, but make sure you have a strong stomach if you want to watch the full film. 

International Men’s Day, November 19

Yesterday was International Men’s Day, and unwittingly I ‘celebrated’ it doing some stereotypically manly things. As usual, I woke early, and began with a few muscular exercises, toning my body into something that would be a good sexy shape: tight abdomen, firm thighs, and some ripples where muscles were well defined. If this were the ‘good old days’, I would have topped that off with a cigar and an early morning pint of beer.

But, first let’s be serious. The IMD theme for 2016 is Stop Male Suicide. I’m already focused on raising awareness about male mental health issues and one of the concerns that need to be addressed is whether ‘being a man’ is so stressful that many men are falling foul to a set of mental strains, which stereotypically they are not talking about. But, men don’t talk about emotional stuff, as everyone knows, except if it’s about sex and to use the words of the man just elected to lead the USA some ‘locker room’ stuff like grapping women by the young feline. What’s a man to do? 

Actually, men (the ones I know from all my years) talk a lot about emotional stuff. It was a man who gave me advice about deciding if work was about my family or about satisfying some people who’d forget me in a second, once I was gone. I know plenty of men who cry when they are upset and excited–and not just when their sports team has won or lost. I know many men who hug their sons and kiss them and, hug each other and embrace each other freely, without thinking there’s anything wrong with that, other than what’s in YOUR mind. But, let the stereotypes have their day in the sun.

Let me get back to me and manly pursuits.

Funnily, I’d gone to bed the night before with more than a small smile on my face after reading about ‘10+ Handsome Guys Who’ll Redefine Your Concept Of Older Men‘. It featured some images of whawt ‘sexiness’ is for elderly. A few things struck me about this ‘concept’: it went for another set of firmly held stereotypes. Look at the hunk in the picture. Who’d not want a piece of that? But, hang on! All of the pictures were of white men.

Sexy is…bearded, tattooed, and…WHITE!

Hello! Where are my guys? Where was uber-hunk, Idris Elba–Mr. James Bond-maybe?

Is Idris too black to be sexy?

If you want to argue that Idris is too young, at 44, then what about Denzil Washington (in his 60s) or your favourite US president, Barack ‘Mr. Smooth’ Obama?

Well, beards are in, and while I ponder the tattooing and how best to stck my thumbs into my unbuttoned jeans, I know I am on the way to sexiness. My Movember beard is well on its way.

Facial hair is here! 🙂

But, back to celebrating manhood.

I watched some sport in the wee hours of the morning, with live golf from Abu Dhabi and taped tennis from London. Men were being men and showing that they can hit balls better than other species. Oh, the joy! Then, after a quick breakfast, which I made myself without waiting for any of the many women in my household to do it, I got into watching a mega-match between Manchester United and Arsenal–big boy football. It was good, strong stuff, with little love lost between the sides, whose managers, had shown before that even big boys get upset with each other about their toys. Who can forget last year’s lightweight bout? 

“Push me? I’ll push you, first!”

But, sadly, I had to drag myself away from another series of that boys’ games, and get ready to play in a golf tournament: more men, with men and boys, being men, at the weekend. Well, there was a smattering of women, but thankfully not enough to change things much. 🙂

Women released from womanly duties for a little fresh air 🙂

The golf wasn’t my best, but after a lot of early morning rain near my house, though not at the course, my mind wasn’t really on the task. My good wife travels a lot and was home for another weekend, and I didn’t want to be out all day, ahead of another of her trips on Sunday. But, I couldn’t control my time, as I waited a lot during my round. After about 6 holes, I really felt time would be well spent just packing it in and heading home. My partner was of a similar mind, as we watched clouds roll in. But like good, strong men, we pressed on, and toughed it out. We got better on the back nine. We finsihed in just over four hours, which wasnt that bad, really.

I scooted off across town to meet a man, straight after my match. He had promised to fix the screen of my phone, which had dropped while I was carrying a prize for another golfer a few weeks ago. I got to his work place with plenty of time and sat, grabbing a typical Jamaican Saturday lunch of a hot patty and cocoa bread.

Jamaican Saturdays are about patties and cocoa bread 🙂

While I ate, we talked…about his job, and helping people. Funny that!

After he’d fixed my phone and I thanked him, I headed home. I saw group of mainly elderly men on the school field as I was leaving: they were playing frisbee (with a smattering of women). They were not of the sexy shapes to which I aspired, but they looked happy.

As I reached my house, my wife and daughter were headed out. Oh, well! So much for my thoughts. Anyway, the weekend is their time.

Plans for drinks with a friend got hastily cancelled, so I sat and caught up with the day. I joined a Twitter online chat about what it means to be a man, which used the #ManTalkJa hashtag. Some useful conversations were going on about what it means to be a man in Jamaica, a place where I think stereotypes and labels are the norm, and people don’t want to delve deeply into understanding social issues. Fittingly, this exercise was organized by one of our energetic youth movements.

I’m not going to try to define what it means to be a man; each person should do that for him or herself, and try to agree, especially if they are in a relationship. I do/have done lots of seemingly less-manly things:

  • I parent (not babysit);
  • I cook (not just egg and chips);
  • I cry (just put on a soppy film and see);
  • I wear pink a lot (it’s my wife’s favourite colour, she says);
  • I have tried to braid my daughter’s hair (not one of my best efforts, but I tried);
  • I try to look after my health (including going for my annual check up–and the prostate check is not fun, but important :();
  • I am ‘the husband of’, which I dislike as much as my wife being ‘the wife of’, and it’s often women who refer to us so :(.

I fight stereotypes like they are my sworn enemies. Women who grumble about my not opening doors for them, or always taking out the garbage, need to reread that manifesto about ‘equality’. My wife has her own bank account, about which I know nearly nothing other than its number, in case of need for transfers. I own property jointly with my wife, who thinks that all of it is hers 🙂

I have no sons, and am extremely happy about that.

It’s hard for me to know now how much of my views on manliness are just what I grew up with: my parents were always equal parts of my upbringing, with my father often the one at home, when my mother worked at nights; my father’s a great cook (thanks to him mother); my mother taught me to sew and wash clothes to avoid marrying a woman for the ‘wrong’ reasons).

I’m also the product of many experiences. One of my favourite stories is about how I sat with a prime minister for a long meeting, and he held my hand on his sofa for most of the two or so hours we talked. It’s part of the custom in Guinea that men kiss on greeting (blame the French), and hug, and touch each other as signs of trust. If I had pulled away, I think our conversation would have been very short.

I don’t think you can ‘tell’ a homosexual by what he wears, or how he speaks, or what he carries. Effeminate men are not homosexuals, automatically; burly men are not rock-solid heterosexuals. If you care that much, better to get the story straight from the ‘horse’, rathe than making the sly and snide assumptions–women, again, are awfully bad at doing that 😦

One of the great things about European life is the need to carry documents, and with that has developed the need for ‘man bags’ or pouches. It’s OK, guys! I prefer small, leather, to large cloth bags. After a while, bulging pockets are limiting.  When I used to tote my baby and toddler around on trips, my bag was an essential part of organizing our movements.Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 3.38.30 AM.png
I’m not going to take on here Jamaican (or Caribbean) notions of maleness, much of which strikes me as ‘forced conformism’. Maybe, I’ll work my way towards doing that for this time in 2017.

Jamaica’s upcoming local government elections: tracing and comedy trump policy issues in first debate.

If our local political strategists are on point, they have whetted our appetites by serving up just the kind of thing Jamaicans love in politics–tracing matches. People are highly partisan and really don’t have much real interest in substantive issues of policy, when politicians are in direct discussions: keep all of that for seminars and conferences. Instead, give them the stand up, knock down, insulting, belittling exchanges that who is bull or cock chicken or wildest Amazon. This comment on Twitter summed it up: 
Moreover, when it comes to policies, politicians and supporters want to associate all successes, so, many of the exchanges are like when two children speak: ‘I’m the best, stuff the rest! I did this, not you, nah, nah, nah!’ Debating isn’t what they do–take it from one who knows more about public arguments than most, presenter Dionne Jackson-Miller. Instead, it’s debasing each other that counts.

Well, we got this last night during the first local government elections debate, which was televised lived. 

I had expressed reservations why a nationally elected politician, who’s also the minister of local government–Desmond McKenzie, who has been also a Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew–was included in the team of the ruling national party. Silly boy! Local government isn’t important in the lives of Jamaicans, except in its absence of positive influence. With that in mind, it was appropriate to bring out first the big guns. For that reason, the Opposition had to bring out its biggish guns, in the form of a local politician who is also on the national stage, namely a PNP National Executive Vice President, Angela Brown-Burke. So, I understand better the positioning for the first debate, which was about the relevance of local government.

What that meant was that little of substance came from the non-debate. But, we got some super sound bites (no pun intended with that which was most captivating): the most notable is currently about whether mosquitoes have bitten you:, uttered by a young JLP candidate, Keneisha Allen, who took on Mrs. Brown-Burke, and got under her skin do much that she was dismissed as being “too young to understand”–a remark that deals with no arguments but says so much about certain attitudes and mentality towards opposing views. 

Honestly, I wasn’t gripped by the exchanges and think most watchers felt the same. So, let’s hope that things are set up better for the second debate, next week. I would give the edge to the JLP after the debate, not least because they have the national reins, which have good economic things to show (even though an honest assessment would say these are largely the results of the defeated PNP’s economic management). I would also say that Kingston’s mayor doesn’t stand as a paragon of good municipal management of a space showing so many signs of decay and dysfunctional existence, even if large parts of this cannot be fixed by local initiatives. In that regard, it might have been a mistake to have her lead the opposition charge, but she had a good mix of municipal and national relevance, so probably seemed well-suited. 

So, onto the second and last debate on November 23.

Jamaica gets some future insurance with new IMF Standby Arrangement 

The IMF Executive Board approved an SDR 1.7billion arrangement for Jamaica to continue its support of economic policies. The documents were published yesterday and can be read, at leisure 😊

Apart from outlining the main policy objectives, the report gives useful pointers about financial markets that explain some of the reasons why my knees don’t tremble with every blip of the exchange rate–thin markets, and no real interbank operations–and about weak monetary transmission. 

Anyway, bravo, Jamaica, for getting an early Christmas present…of a sort. 

Plastic recycling in Jamaica: an incomplete story

This summer, our National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) started a pilot project to recycle plastic bottles in certain communities in Kingston and St. Catherine parishes, covering approximately 2,000 households, with some 10,000 people. It was anticipated that the equivalent of 347 tonnes of solid waste or 3.8 million plastic bottles would be collected. We were informed that 1.2 million tonnes of solid waste is generated in Jamaica annually, 75 per cent of which ends up at the country’s disposal sites; a “miniscule” portion of the remaining 25 per cent is recycled by small entities. One of those entities is the Jamaican Environment Trust (JET ) who offer recycling drop off at their offices. The bulk of the remaining solid waste ends up all over the place, as the video shows on a rainy day, as one of the water channels coming off the mountains winds its way down to the sea.

Recycling ‘depot’, Trelawny

The pile of plastic bottles in the shadow of the trees is the kind of ‘recycling depot’ I’ve seen at a few places in the country areas of Jamaica, when I drive around.

Among the other small entities that recycles are outfits such as that below, off Shortwood Road, St. Andrew, which has been a bottle depot for all the time I’ve been back in Jamaica.

In the big picture for Jamaica, we know that sites such as these are really minimal, indeed, but they do indicate willingess to do something other than let garbage, such as reusable bottles just fly around.

I’ve seen several men riding on bicycles in the corporate area with large sacks of plastic bottles. We know that a lot of reusage occurs because we can see the items ‘packaged’ by informal traders, whether it’s things like honey or cooking oil, where plastic bottles may have a better life than glass bottles.

Recycling ‘depot’, St. Andrew

Anyway, I’m curious to know how the project is going (it’s now three months in), and have asked NSWMA and their Chairman if they could offer an update. Let’s see what response comes back.

Economic Growth Council Signing Ceremony and Call to Action: Some thoughts on the illusion of optics

I did not attend the Economic Growth Council’s (EGC) ‘Signing Ceremony and Call to Action’, held at the Courtleigh Auditorium on November 7, but I was able to watch the Livestream video of the event, which you can watch here There’s lots to applaud in how the EGC packages what it’s doing, and its slickness is one of the positives that can be taken from what they are doing. As I’ve noted before, I’m interested in aspect of the process of getting Jamaica onto a much faster growth path. Achieving that should be important in getting more Jamaicans contributing to the well-being of the island. Traditionally, high growth rates would be translated into faster and broader jobs growth, but many things have changed in the local and world economy, so that the prospect of ‘jobless’ growth is a real risk. That’s an outcome that Jamaica needs to avoid.

One thing that struck me in the presentations was how much of Jamaica seemed to matter. Now, I might not have been looking or listening with as much care as I could, but if so, please correct me. I saw only a few representatives of many of Jamaica’s important people. Who do I mean?

I mean farmers, vendors, schoolchildren, young single mothers with many children, the sick, the unemployed, the young men whom we often talk about as being disaffected or alienated.

Now, as is the way with many events, the process of ‘reaching out’ is often done hastily or incompletely. But, to me, this series of omissions is telling. When I watched the video ‘testimonials’ of young people telling me what they were expecting and hoping I heard what seemed like a narrow cross-section of those who are also yearning. Again, these ‘sound bites’ cannot be comprehensive, but they should give the impression of being broadly spread. I did not get that impression. Why do I think that matters?

One of my big concerns is that amongst the mistakes that we have made in the past and are in danger of repeating is somehow acting as if the change we want to see will be organic. Time was, when economies grew, people knew work would be created across a wide area of the country, so that no or few special measures were needed to see that flow occur. My belief is that those days are long gone, partly due to technology, but also due to the fact that the structure of the country has changed, both geographically and culturally. What that suggests, to me, is that some careful funneling needs to happen. That cannot be like in a planned economy, where you direct resources very specifically to areas and people, but it may need to be something similar.

I think the notion of inclusion is important, but do not see it happening spontaneously. My belief is that a large swathe of the country has actively excluded itself, or felt it was excluded, and so needs to be actively included

Some of those who need to be included live in the ‘shadows’ of our society, but that does not make they trivial; on the contrary. They have significant influence on many people’s lives. If crime is seen as the biggest challenge to getting Jamaica’s economy onto a much firmer footing, that cannot happen without addressing the flow of young people into crime. The motives for following that sort of life are complex, but talking about ‘opportunities’ in some glib, or amorphous way will miss the target massively. 

I do not have the answers to this problem, but I see what is happening in many areas as a sign that all cannot be well if the process does not reach deep down into daily lives. I just cite a simple set of experiences.

I drove across the middle of Jamaica on Sunday, from the tourist hub in Montego Bay, through our Trelawny agricultural heartland that grows sugar cane and yam, into the capital. I saw many men and women doing what they do almost daily: 

  • Sitting playing dominoes, or drinking and eating; 
  • Standing at water pipes or walking with drums on their heads to and from water tanks;
  • Living in homes that are barely fit for purpose;
  • Putting piles of produces onto roadsides, hoping for sales;
  • Getting into overcrowded taxis to head to their activities;
  • Begging on the road, at traffic lights;
  • Walking along potholed roads, long distances, to their activities;
  • Making phone calls to people on a list, plying them for money.

I just cite those snippets because they are representative of what many people are doing.

The idea of moving from ‘third world to first’ is attractive, but what does it mean, and is it something that means that people’s lives will be transformed dramatically AWAY from some of these daily activities within the next four years?

If the answer to those questions is to mean anything, those people need to know what will change in their lives and what they need to do to make it happen faster and look likely to be a permanent feature of their lives. 

Ambassadorial duties: A visit to Jamaica’s west

I’m lucky that I get to sample occasionally some of Jamaica’s offerings to tourists. I’m having a few days around Montego Bay, chilling and thinking. I wrote about the exchange rate the other day, and tourism is one part of the other side of the coin that many Jamaicans may not see, but matters. Simply, our declining J$ means that foreign visitors should find it cheaper to come to spend their money on our shores. Whether they spend more in local terms will always be a matter of debate, but the falling exchange rate offers them more chance of thinking they are getting ‘value for money’. Anyway, most of the foreign visitors I meet are so happy to be in Jamaica that I think they don’t factor in the exchange rate much. 

But, meeting them opens doors. I was trying to grab a very the makings of an early breakfast yesterday–a few sandwiches and fruit–ahead of a dawn round of golf, and met a family from Canada, with two lovely girls, who were too shy to speak to a stranger. Anyway, I complimented them on their straw-style hats, which I told them looked very Jamaican. As luck had it, the family sat adjacent to me this morning, when I was having my breakfast, so I renewed my conversation. The girls were still shy but I pointed out some things that I thought would make their visit a bit more interesting. 

I’d been joined by a small lizard while waiting to hit a shot yesterday, and as is my wont, I grabbed its picture, which I showed to the girls: nature is less intimidating in this way, and they looked fascinated.

“I’d stick with the driver, down the left side…” (Thanks to my new caddy.)
I talked to them about Jamaican fruit, which I hoped they’d tried: guavas (both pink and white) were on offer.
My lovely fruit plate for breakfast and ‘teaching moment’
Their mother knew guavas from a restaurant in their home in Toronto. I then got talking about golf courses, because the parents were interested, and I outlined what was nearby and worth trying out. They didn’t take much persuading. They planned to visit Dunn’s River Falls during their week-long stay. They asked about buying coffee: the mother said she needed to get for 70 people in her office. Buy, buy, buy! I pointed out that the Shoppes at Rose Hall had Blue Mountain coffee on sale, or the airport shops should also have. They were set for the day, and maybe the rest of their vacation.

Before that, I had been talking to a man, originally from Honduras, now living in Chicago, having migrated in his early teens, who’d asked me where I was from, and after that asked me about the language people spoke in Jamaica. I explained as best I could how Patois has an English base, but that wouldn’t really help understanding locals. He agreed, after overhearing conversations yesterday. I asked some of the waiting staff to give some examples of how Jamaicans would say “Good morning.” One young man said “Wha’ pree?” His female colleague said “Mawnin’!” I gave the Honduran a little insight to some other phrases that are not so hard to connect to English, but he understood that he needed to hang with a few Jamaicans for a while before getting very far. 

Both chance meetings settled on one point of agreement: this is a lovely island. That’s our selling point. 

But, contrast that to the surroundings, not far from the rarified world of the major hotels.

Last night, I went to visit a relative who lives in Montego Bay. I don’t know the city well, but never have much desire to get to know it, for all it’s constant mayhem, choked streets, and constant candidacy for ‘grimiest place on the island’.

The wildness of the west
Frankly, Montego Bay is an utter disgrace, given that it sits as a possible showcase for visitors to Jamaica. But, it’s a classic case of bad things Jamaican–unplanned, unruly, unkept, unloved.

As we drove through the city to do a school pick-up, a group of armed JDF soldiers was crossing the street, machine guns in hands.

Trying to control the uncontrallable?
This is part of the ‘boots on the ground’ approach to some of the escalating crime that has afflicted the area. Everyone was going about their own business: taxis loading and unloading, at will; pedestrians striding through traffic to make their way to wherever; hustlers with handcarts and just armed with cell phones jostling for space in and on the streets. Eventually, I got to my destination, one of the hills overlooking the harbour. I sat and chatted with my aunt, whom I’d not seen for too many years. She’s in her mid-80s and still in great health. We looked out at their neighbourhood. She spoke about the many small things that made life harder than it need be:

  • The scammers living adjacent, who could be heard making their ‘calls’ all day long, their being raided and taken by police, being bailed, resuming ‘business’, moving away. 
  • The commercial activities going on in plain sight in the middle of a residential area: sand and gravel works as your daily view is inexcusable. (But, the parish council friends of the sandman, sandbag the citizens.)
  • The potholed streets: taxis came and went, and people walked to their homes, dodging the craters that were all over the place.
  • The JPS light that works intermittently: we watched it go on and off at will. 

But, we tried to enjoy the setting sun as we looked west. It’s a beautiful island, sadly run by some less-than beautiful people who dont care enough to make life as nice as possible for citizens as they do for visitors. 

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