The Citizen’s Guide to the 2019-2020 Budget: a good start, but…

First, let’s be happy about what the Minister of Finance is trying to do in making the annual budget something that more people can understand and relate to. That latter aspect is important because it raises the chances that policies will go in the desired direction. For the first time, there is an attempt to put a non-technical document out to the public “in an easily understood format”. It’s close, but has a few steps to go, I’d argue.

Amongst those steps are ‘how will more people get to read the document?’ We’re long past the days when pamphlets about government policies were only available at official outlets and in paper form. So, a pull-out supplement in a Sunday paper is welcome. But, we know that many don’t have or want their access limited to this format. So, while the website address to the ministry of finance is prominent on the front of the document, a visit to that site doesn’t offer an electronic version of the guide. Why not? Worse still, the site listed under ‘Resources’, returns a ‘404 error’!

Put out the document in electronic form across the many social media platforms that now exist.

Economics is not a subject that is short of jargon but its use should be minimal when describing things. Also, simpler terms are better, I feel: ‘used’ is better than ‘utilized’, ‘aids’ is better than ‘facilitates’, for example. Plain language goes over better.

Graphs and charts are good, so use them more.

Accuracy is important but understanding doesn’t demand precision.

At the least, the decimal places could be dropped and the numbers rounded, eg J$274,447 millions. That should make for easier reading, at least.

Consistent simplification is needed. It’s great to see a heading like ‘Where does the money go?’ but why should we then have to translate ‘compensation of employees’? Couldn’t it be ‘What money staff get’ or similar?

There are some ‘inaccuracies’ that can be confusing: ‘bilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank’ is wrong–they’re multilateral institutions. That difference can be explained simply, if needed, by pointing to bilateral institutions (citing the bilateral partner country).

While the guide doesn’t ask for feedback, I’ve offered it! However, I think feedback should be sought explicitly. After all, it’s better to hear how well citizens feel about the guide.

Just some thoughts. 🤔

Sometimes, the frustration with Jamaica is just overwhelming

Last week I had a periodic rant (see thread below):

I’d just gotten back from San Juan, Puerto Rico, where my wife had been attending a Clinton Foundation conference on disaster recovery.

More than anything, I was struck by the look of a city that had suffered devastating hurricane damage less than two years ago: it was almost pristine. When the taxi driver had told us on the drive from the airport about water up to the fourth story of buildings, that was mind-boggling enough. Jamaica hasn’t had a major hurricane hit for several years, but the country knows well the widespread devastation and how hard it is to recover. So, why does so much of Jamaica look like it’s still recovering from a natural disaster? That’s where my frustration starts.

When I add the fact that Puerto Rico has been on its economic and financial knees, my concerns grow. Successful clean-up isn’t about good institutions and organizations but goes deeply to how people have strong sense of common purpose and pride.

That goes to answering questions like ‘How do we want our country to look and feel?’ It can’t be that we’re happy with grime and grunge mostly and the occasional sprucing up around major holidays or if US presidents are visiting.

We don’t have to totally replicate the look of San Juan, but it’s not a bad look.

What also strikes is the contrast in speed and cohesion of what’s being undertaken. That stings more now as many parts of Kingston and its metropolis are undergoing extensive urban reshaping–and I use that term instead of redesign for a reason. So much of our urban change reeks of disunity and that lack of cohesion stems from basic poor design through the obvious lack of communication with key parties that would ensure, at least, minimal disruption. Too often, we hear of or experience that much to our collective detriment: I’ve lost count of the unplanned power outages and water supply disruptions that have been caused by road construction damage.

I asked recently where are the cost-benefit analyses that should accompany the major projects underway. If they exist, they’re probably well-hidden in a draw. Why? Because, if they were glowingly positive do you really believe the government would want to hide them from plain sight?

Our patriarchal system of government is so entrenched that citizens just keep sucking it up and get ready for the next gullet full of bile. But, we are all losers in that case.

It doesn’t take a cynic to find political slogans like #NewJamaica more than a bit distasteful. One just has to remember has a newly-finished road, built to alleviate congestion stemming from one of the major new road projects, flooded and collapsed. (See reports on Chesterfield Drive.)

Image courtesy of RJR News

Out came the excuses from the National Works Agency about blocked drains that rendered the work so quickly unviable. You have to wonder how many of that agencies employees put on their outer garments before putting on their underwear. There’s a simple sequence to work, including that part called preparation. So, in the absence of that being adequate, how and why is there surprise at failure?

My rant ended by saying not caring is ingrained. In saying that, it’s easy to conclude that failure is similarly ingrained in much that gets undertaken in the name of the Jamaican people.