#FloraAndFaunaJamaica #March2018

As the month and Easter come to their ends, Spring is formally here and growing is what many plants are doing. Sometimes, new leaves and new blossoms and new fruit appear. Other times, old growth holds its sway. Here are my Instagram pictures on this theme during the month.


The new team is announced. If ‘Cabinet Jamaica’ were a football team what should it have done?

Nothing gets people more excited than what happens in sports, and I say that without reservation to those who want to say that religion has a greater pull. Now, what we’ve seen over many years is that when sports teams start to do badly, calls come fast and furiously to change the manager/coach. Much the same happens in business, where people call for the head of the CEO. But, in politics, when things start to look stale and out of sorts, the call is not always clearly for the head to go, but for the team to be changed. In politics, it’s not agreed that the poor performance of the team of its players are to be laid at the feet of the leader, but for blame and the change in results to come from finding a ‘Messi’ where you had a ‘Giroud’ or swapping a ‘Ver Stegen’ for a ‘Joe Hart’.

For those of you who take note of parallel events, think how Luke Shaw has been under the cosh at ManU. But, then also recall what a great striker Allan Clarke (aka ‘Sniffer’, for his prowess in front of goal, netting nearly a goal every other game) was, coming out of almost-nowhere to take the English First Division by storm, helping to take Leicester City to the top of the league in the early 1960s.

Now, before my British friends start to jump up and spill their fish and chips, about how many have been asking for the head of PM Theresa May to roll since the Brexit things started to go south, or even east and west and north all at once, I’ll say that the Theresa May story is also tempered by calls for some of the heads of the team to roll, maybe even faster.

But, where does this take me, when I look at Jamaica? PM Andrew Holness has just had a minor reshuffle of his Cabinet, and if you were not paying attention you’d not really notice what changed apart from a couple of new faces at the table, and some of the older faces and bodies (if I can be so direct) moving from straight-backed chairs into soft recliners. So, is this ‘change of team’ strategy going to do wonders for ‘Team Jamaica’ or should it have been a case of a Kamikaze-style mea culpa of the PM saying, “Guys and gals, the buck stops here, and the persistent failings that I have noticed in how the team has performed is down to me. I’m getting on my horse to see the GG, right now. So, adios!”?

Well, first, that is not the Jamaican way, which would have at least been preceded by a period of blame-shifting, and some name calling and some attempt to blame the Opposition for playing partisan-politics and poisoning the people against the good things the government has tried to do, but not succeeded so well. But, then again, that would have been a tricky ploy not least because the whole idea of standing on a principle of accountability and transparency was not the Opposition’s idea, but the new government’s own. I wont harp on too much about ‘job descriptions’, ‘performance assessments’, and the clear indications that something measurable would be presented to the people so that they could see for themselves how well or poorly Cabinet minsters were doing. Trouble is, though, such measures are then hard to contest.

Looked at again, in the football sense, you get a man to be top striker, but he keeps scoring in your own goal? Well, that can’t be good. You have people who decide that policies be damned, let black magic work? Well, what is all that? Your main man between the goal posts, who’s there to save at the last moment and also be a hero when things get down to the penalty shoot-out, can’t always be taking a puff on his inhaler or sipping on his water bottle at the key moments. Footballers have a prime and often past that prime, their minds are willing but their bodies are not so ready. You get my drift?

So, my question is really simple. What is the change of Cabinet really meant to indicate?

I look at all the EPL managers who have been under threat or lost their jobs this season. Conte/Chelsea, sitting in the top 4 nearly all season, but the man is under threat? Swansea, Stoke, West Bromwich, Crystal Palace, Everton, West Ham, Southampton and more, struggling to move from the threat of relegation into at least mid-table, all changing managers. One minute, Koeman is the man, then he’s ‘Who, man?’. From GOAT to goat!

ManU spend like crazy but still can’t deal with seeming brilliant leadership of Guardiola at Man City, so Mourihno is under threat. Would it make sense for him to ditch Pogba or de Gea or Fellani? Jose is more likely to walk or be pushed before they all go.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to look at what the other team is doing in your league, just look at what the best in the other leagues in the world do.

Don’t think too hard, though 🙂

What did you spend, and why did you spend it? The bad optics of ministerial luxury spending

Good management of public money is really quite simple, until that management forgets the essential principle: the money is not for personal benefit, but for the benefit of the greatest number of the population. Once that principle is forgotten, all bets are off, in a sense, because any number of reasons can be used to draw on that source of funding for reasons that are geared towards benefitting a group less than the greatest number. Jamaica is one country where that principle has been abandoned often, and has struggled to be reinstated. One problem is the accumulated ‘scar tissue’ of funds having been used for the good of a small group (let’s call them party faithfuls), so there’s a reactionary impulse that says something like ‘We were underserved in the past, so let’s get back what we were due, before doing anything else’. Evidence of that was put forward clearly last week in the form of the remarks by a minister of state for finance–ironically, someone whose hand should be carefully tight around the public purse strings. But, like many a drug addict when faced with one last ‘hit’ before giving up, old habits die hard.

I’m on record as not being a fan of public money being spent that sets public officials on a pedestal. I understand that many are in public office for the profile it gives, but I would hope that those people have very short tenures, but it’s not something I can control. For that reason, the furore that erupted yesterday about alleged government spending on luxury vehicles for ministers is close to my heart, as concerns go. It brought back to mind a situation when I was working for the IMF as resident representative for Guinea. At the time, the country had no program with the Fund and was trying to get its economic policy in order so that it could be considered or one. Public finance was out of control but there were few options left to stop the bleeding. Cuts that affected social services were not going to be popular in a country that has some of the worst poverty. What then? Well, as a gesture but also as a clearly quantifiable saving, the idea came up of ‘downgrading’ the vehicles used by ministers. Now, Guinea has some terrible roads and many officials visits need to go into rural areas where an four-wheel drive vehicle is necessary. But, the optics of ministers driving around the country is such vehicles was not good. So, in the blink of an eye the president was persuaded to authorize that the ministerial 4x4s (often Toyota Land Cruisers) were confiscated and replaced by ordinary Toyota Corollas. Let me leave the story there, and say no more about my part in it 🙂

Jamaica, likkle but tallawah, so why not try to break the Macaroni world record?

My teenaged daughter, a bright and energetic child, has had the advantage of seeing much of the world already. She’s, however, grounded herself with the fact that her heritage is Caribbean, and many of the things that make that special centre on how pleasing it is to eat and prepare certain foods. She knows, for example, that no matter what anyone close to her but outside of her family my say, and no matter how strong may be the protestations of voices coming simply or collectively from other nations, no one…no one makes macaroni (cheese, pie, or whatever it may be called) like her ‘ Grammy’ (her mother’s mother, who is Bahamian). I suspect that sometime during her development she was infused by the voice and sentiment of her pregnant mother uttering phrases, in between deep breaths, about how to cook macaroni. I had had nice macaroni cheese growing up in England, but quickly to realize that I had been badly misled in believing that the way it was served to me was in fact the best. I now know better, and betting a good husband, when my wife offers me a piece of her mother’s macaroni cheese, I only hesitate to ask if it is (my favourite part) from one of the corners.

Fast forward. I was talking to my daughter in the car earlier this week, on our way home from school and discussing how in certain fields you have not ‘made it’ until you become the subject of a cartoon. It has happened to me, and I’m sure it happened to her mother, though I cannot recall when or where.

However, I hoped my daughter understood that ‘making it’ in politics is also about making sure that positives don’t get outweighed by negatives, and in that sense, cartoons can be a double-edged sword because they may characterize the good and the bad as seen in the eyes of the public, or at least of the cartoonist.

What I should have added, is that in the world of politics, it’s also important to not be associated with things that are the butt of ridicule.

Fast forward, again. If you’re in Jamaica and you don’t know about ‘Macaroni’, the hapless Coaster bus driver who tried to drive though a flooded stretch of road and got his bus stuck, then I am truly helpless in your case. I suggest, you find remedial help from any of a myriad collection of religious groups that are willing to keep you out of touch from reality.

Now, for the government of the day to be associated with the ‘tactics’ of ‘Macaroni’ is indeed sad, but also a classic example of what happens when attempts to manage the narratives of public discourse cannot work because reality constantly turns out to be far more ridiculous than even the wickedest of satirists could imagine. In that vein, I am going to just point to two recent instances and leave you to following the breadcrumbs. A hint: governance, cronyism. Nada mas! Well, never mind what people say, look at what they do.

Can any one politician be more ruddy tone deaf that him?

How much macaroni can you buy for J$190 million, and how many cars or SUVs would you need to transport it around the country? My guess is 18, which could easily maintain a smooth ride over the verdant (green) terrain even at the highest-end of the island.

I think Jamaica could do wonders for its image if it had a crack at breaking the world record for a macaroni cheese. Do you think the current administration wants to back this idea?

INDECOM Act Must be Reformed as Soon as Possible, Says Jamaicans for Justice

INDECOM Act Must be Reformed as Soon as Possible, Says Jamaicans for Justice

— Read on petchary.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/indecom-act-must-be-reformed-as-soon-as-possible-says-jamaicans-for-justice/

The Building Across the Road from the General Penitentiary

The Building Across the Road from the General Penitentiary

— Read on rightstepsandpouitrees.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/the-building-across-the-road-from-the-general-penitentiary/

When I graduated from University College London in the mid-1970s, after doing an M.Phil in Urban Planning, I tried to get a job with UDC. Let’s say that they did not see me as fitting what they needed. In the subsequent 40-odd years that I have been visiting Jamaica and now living here, again. I was struck by one singular fact. Whenever I look around Jamaica, especially downtown, I wonder at the immense lost growth potential from not having a wholesale renovation program. Jobs & development in abundance. The other loss comes first from the negative impression dereliction leaves vs the clear positives that come from seeing renovations spreading and second from the multiplier effects of such renovations that are economic, social and psychological.

I understand that much of the urban blight we see in Jamaica is NOT the natural result of economic decline, but the contrived result of hoarding of land and building as assets. I have never quite figured out the economic logic of that, because the premium always seemed to be greater by putting such assets back into operation.

I can see an underlying political dynamic that may explain it in part, but not in whole. I’m still thing.

Susan’s pictures may help prompt me to think again, to see what driving forces are at play.

Jamaica’s Body-Worn Cameras: A Comfort to a Fool?

Jamaica’s Body-Worn Cameras: A Comfort to a Fool?

— Read on rightstepsandpouitrees.wordpress.com/2018/03/14/jamaicas-body-worn-cameras-a-comfort-to-a-fool/

A few Jamaicans are comfortable asking awkward questions and forcing public and private officials to account for things they have committed to do and not done, or explaining what they have done in the name of citizens or customers that seem to run counter to the public good. Susan Goffe is one such Jamaican. Once again, she points us clearly in the direction of a set of seeming ‘false promises’ whose non-fulfillment leaves many of us at risk of misdeeds or malfeasance.

Many Jamaicans seem paradoxical. On the one hand, they are extremely suspicious of many if not all official explanations. Yet, the are amazingly accepting of many official explanations. They are not comfortable probing beyond a few superficial pieces of evidence and tend to have a short memory about matters that were raised in the past but not resolved and then seem to recur.

Here is one area, which together with the recent rolling out of CCTV by the security forces, that should make it easier for citizens to literally see and hear what is going on in the country, not least in the area of crimes being committed but of criminals being confronted. Yet, our hands and feet remain bound. Why?

I look forward to an official reaction to this set of findings by Susan.

Political games people play: living with anti-democratic cyber-bullies

Let’s accept that I have never been a card-carrying member of any political party. That does not mean that I do not have views that would fit well with the philosophy of a local political party. However, a range of circumstances working in the national or intenrational public service did not make it easy to be an identifiable official member of a political party.

When I lived in the UK, social media was non-existent. I voted, so could express my politcal views through the ballot box. When I lived in the USA and Guinea, my status did not allow me to have a vote, either locally or nationally, so the ballot box was not an open route. But, social media was coming into play. When I lived in Barbados and now in Jamaica, I could vote, at the very least as an eligible Commonwealth citizen. Social media was well to the fore.

I noticed the shrillness of partisan commentary in the UK, where Labour (left) and Conservative (right) views were often truly polarized; those were were not clearly aligned towards either end of that spectrum or were undecided or had a clear alliance with the views of another party had a good number of choices, either with the Liberals or one of the nationalist parties, such as Plaid Cymru-Party of Wales, or with a fringe party. You can get a good idea from the Wikipedia listing of poltiical parties in the UK.

In Guinea, where the philosophies of parties were less relevant for a long time under the dictatorial rule of President Conte, the voices were really those pro- on anti-president. Later, parties started to show their colours more and they were quite distinctly aligned to ethnic groups.

In the USA, the philosophical underpinnings of the Democrats and the Republicans were often clear, but the realities at the time of my arrival in the early 1990s seemed to be that they were both playing for a bigger share of ‘the middle’ and were not universally clear how far they would move to the left and right, respectively. That’s changed over the past two decades and the party are standing closer to their respective political poles.

Barbados and Jamaica are similar in that the two main parties dominate the thinking and actions of many people in ways that are clear, and their partisanship often defies reason, with many displays of blind faith for both the party line and against the line of the opposing party. What’s funny about that is someone like me, who has no affiliation can and did get labelled as a party ‘hack’ for taking views that were in line with those of one party or the other, even though the basis for the view was essentially what I took to be the sensibleness of the position, often driven by what I saw as the economic logic or lack of that in the positions. So, at any given time, I could have been labelled Dem or Labour in Barbados, or Labourite or Comrade in Jamaica.

I started delving into social media in Barbados, where I began my first blog, Living in Barbados. I tried to be objective but labels came flying at me. Funnily, enough people saw that I was trying to be impartial to warrant their asking for my views and commentary on radio and TV. But, that’s when I first experienced the vitriol of partisans.

The great thing about a blog is that one can deal with comments through the process of moderating them very simply by either ignoring them or never letting them see the light of day. It was often easy to spot partisans because reason was not at the base of their positions and ranting was. I was also delving into social media through Facebook (which seemed a great platform for casual contact with friends and family, through sharing of pictures) and Twitter (initially as a foreign exchange trader, where I was attracted to the community for the easy ability to find people with like interests with whom to have ‘conversations’ and share information). My initial experiences with both did not lead me to feel that these were fundamentally difficult places to interact. However, that has changed.

While I see that a lot of users of either platform are there to truly engage and discuss, there is a body of users who are there with a political agenda that is really about pushing positively in a sense the party positions, but distinctly pushing negative energy by trying offend and attack what they see as views not in line with those of their party (which may not necessarily be those of the opposing party, either). It’s one of many zero-sum games that are common in Jamaica and Barbados, and I have to think it relates to the size of the audience–relatively small–so those critical voices echo more loudly.

Sadly, technology has not made it easy to deal with this newer phenomenon. Much as automated trading made it hard for an small individual trader to do well in the FX market because computer-driven orders could be made faster and greater than humanly possible, so too with those who use the abilities of computers to stimulate and continue to generate negative commentary.

I still find it possible to deal with those who are ‘trolling’ on my terms, either by ignoring them–one’s never obliged to read them–or dealing with them quickly (if only so the historical record shows that a view was rejected). But, the pervasive anonymity of social media makes it hard to truly deal with a ‘body’ of criticism that may seem large but could in fact be small.

But, it’s important to try to understand what is really at play: it’s disrupting clear conversations, which seen a better than letting opposing ideas get currency. It’s fighting against free speech in forums that are built on the ability for people to engage in free speech. To the extent that this happens in the area of discussing ideas of policies and thus politics, it’s a form of political bullying. Because one cannot unmask each and every user, the distructiveness and anti-democratic nature of the practices are even more damaging and dangerous, because the real villians are often not known and can be ‘recreated’ easily.

Few like fighting against adversaries that they cannot really identify, and therein lies the basis of a winning strategy. Many get turned off to the extent that they withdraw totally or revert to ‘private’ status, for self-protection. Others try to strive to ‘not let the buggers win’. There’s no easy choice, but I’m a stubborn bugger 🙂

Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety

Susan Goofe has engaged in the tussle for public agencies to show that they care about how their action affect citizens. In this case, focusing on the safety concerns related to the extensive roadworks at Barbican. The theme of government disregard keeps coming up this year, but it doesn’t yet seem to have led to much of a public response from many of the arms of government.


Barbican Square Roadworks: An Example of Government Disregard for People’s Safety

— Read on rightstepsandpouitrees.wordpress.com/2018/03/12/barbican-square-roadworks-an-example-of-government-disregard-for-peoples-safety/

NewsTalk 93FM Fresh Start interview, March 6, 2018: Citizen power

My dear friend, Jean Lowrie-Chin wrote her usual Monday column in the Observer this week, which included some points on how taxpayers need to raise their voice against corruption. She kindly volunteered me to discuss the issues on the radio, with Marlon Morgan :). The audio recording is in the following link:

www.dropbox.com/s/303b2knp6qggdfc/SEG 8 Fresh Start March 6, 2018.mp3

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