Jamaica’s education crisis-May 10, 2021

Reverend Ronald Thwaites is a former education minister and his take on where the parlous state of Jamaican education is strikes many of the right chords in a badly tuned song. Education has failed Jamaica for most of its independence and that failure is shown throughout all aspects of a society that is highly under-education, highly unproductive, poorly paid but largely paid near its real ‘worth’.

The year and more of sporadic education for most children isn’t going to be recovered quickly and looks likely to be a permanent loss.

Jamaica’s education system has many things wrong with it, from its vision, through its methods, through the nature of inputs (children from too many homes where parents cannot help prepare and support them in education, including ensuring they are well-fed and well-rested; teachers too focused on matters other than best teaching practices).

I have no magic wand, and I am not a good example of how children can succeed in a highly dysfunctional system. But, all the talk about the importance of our human capital is hot air when one sees what passes for school life for many Jamaican children. The output is often not ‘fit for purpose’ at more than some basic levels–only 40% graduate high school with any qualification. You can’t make a progressive society and economy with such bad material.

Central bank digital currencies-May 8, 2021

I’m not a fan of cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin. But, as a former central banker, I ought to take note of plans by central banks to introduce digital currencies, not least because they would have the distinct advantage over cryptocurrencies of being regarded as legal tender. So, I better start reading up on them as some of my favourite central banks are amongst the over 85% of such institutions that start to dip their toes into the water.

New COVID restrictions in Jamaica through June 2-May 5, 2021

PM Andrew Holness announced new restrictions for the period throuhg June 2, covering the Memorial Day holiday in late May:

While most restrictions are unchanged, schools will go back to in-person for certain examinees from May 10.

Also, the travel ban from the UK has been lifted, while a ban has been placed on travel from Trinidad & Tobago.

Many are against renewed visitors from the UK not least because of the UK variant, and despite the UK making good progress with vaccinations, but are mindful that a previous surge had possible origins in the resumption of travel from the UK.

COVID vaccine hesitancy in the USA as herd immunity seems unlikely-May 3, 2021

It’s more than ironic that as more vaccines have been rolled out, and major developed countries grabbed the bulk of those, we find they are now the major problem to overcoming COVID. They’ve done well to get 1st vaccines to the bulk of their populations in some cases, and must now get the job done of giving 2nd doses. Here’s where they are hitting a wall of ‘vaccination hesitancy’. The USA has now about 30% of it population fully vaccinated against COVID. Daily vaccinations are declining from about 3 million to 2.5 million. The ‘hesitancy’ map for that is interesting for its apparent clustering:

CDC also has an interactive map:

Wyoming has been flagged as having the worst cast of hesitancy, about 32%:

So, the risk facing the USA now is that, even with its fast roll-out, the sought for ‘herd immunity’ is now less likely. The needed rate was about 70%, but with variants spreading, a number nearer 80% seems needed.

We heard that CVS and Walgreen’s have wasted more vaccines that most states combined.

Meanwhile, those of us in the rest of the world are just desperate to get a substantial stock of vaccines, and are imploring the USA to let us have some of the 60 million AstraZeneca doses they’ve so far said they’ll offer other countries, once it receives federal approval.

COVID-19 in Jamaica: Wary of a Third Wave-May 2, 2021

This excellent summary of the still-high concerns about the possibility of a 3rd COVID ‘wave’/‘surge’ in Jamaica, by fellow blogger, Emma Lewis, is worth a careful read. Its points about reopening Jamaica’s borders, especially to the UK (in light of evidence that the UK variant was behind our current 2nd wave) point to the ongoing tussle over lives versus livelihoods.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness held one of their regular press briefings on April 29. It was not hard to detect a change of tone – and it was …

COVID-19 in Jamaica: Wary of a Third Wave

COVID update, Jamaica-April 30, 2021

Health and wellness minister, Dr. Chris Tufton gave a broad update on COVID trends, yesterday evening, including stressing the need for people to get their second vaccination, which are noted in the thread, below:

The chief medical officer, Dr. Jaqueline Bisasor-McKenzie, added an extensive assessment of how trends has been affected by various restrictive measures. She gave stark warnings that a third wave could occur if people ease off the protocols and it would likely be worse than the previous two.

It would likely push health services way beyond their capacity.

She cited a long list of countries that were in a third wave, though the worst situation is in India, having its 2nd wave, whose crisis now needed help from other countries.

With that background, Dr. Tufton pointed to confirmation that the ‘UK variant’ had been found in Jamaica and was perhaps behind the 2nd wave:

When asked about statements that flights from the UK would resume on May 1, he gave a circuitous reply, suggesting the decision had not yet been taken but was for consideration by Cabinet subcommittee over the coming weekend.

This clearly begs the question whether tourism minister Bartlett’s categorical statement on reopening borders to the UK was premature.

Biden’s first joint national address to Congress-April 29, 2021

The optics of President Biden’s 99 days joint address to Congress were odd yet typical of #COVID19Life. The audience on the floor of the Congress was only 200 people—not the usual full complement of elected members and only a handful of Cabinet members, including no need for a ‘designated survivor’ not present in the chamber; no invited guests or Supreme Court justices; few members of the press and diplomatic corps. People had to pass metal detectors and show proof of full COVID vaccination. People didn’t shake hands or hug, but bumped fists.

The first black sergeant-in-arms introduced the president:

The image of the Speaker of the House and the vice president being women was quickly pointed out by the president as a first.

The full broadcast can be seen, here:

The substance of the speech was wide-ranging, spelling out a huge package of spending that would restructure the USA physically and socially, spending some US$6 trillion. Funding would come from tax hikes on the richest 1% of society in income and capital gains levies.

President Biden did not step away from matters he’s touched on in a clearly personal and presidential manner, such as racial injustice and voting rights, as well as cancer research.

He’s on a wave of public approval:

Admittedly, it’s skewed heavily on partisan lines.

We got a look inside the preparations:

He harked back to the January 6 insurrection:

He showed some love for his political opponents, such as Rep. Liz Cheney, even if there was less love amongst some of the opponents for each other (with Cheney still at loggerheads with Rep. Kevin McCarthy).

BBC fact-checked the speech:

So, too, did the New York Times:

Ted Cruz fell asleep during a section on immigration and that’s been widely watched online:

Ploughing the wrong furrows on Jamaican farm labour overseas-April 28, 2021

Labour minister, Karl Samuda, said something is wrong with Jamaica’s farm labour programme, and the low take up of opportunities suggests he’s right. But, putting selection into the hands of MPs smells of a wrong approach.

The Jamaican dollar exchange rate, a simple tale of cats crying over spilt milk-April 25, 2021

A Jamaican friend who runs an investment business and I were discussing the foreign exchange (FX) market and the Jamaican dollar exchange rate, yesterday. I will not go into the abstruse points we touched on. I will distill things into what the FX market is about, in fact what any market is about-buyers and sellers (not permanent states, though some are more significant than others); gainers and losers (not permanent states, though some are more significant than others). I’ll offer a smidgen of context that’s not yet clear, as odd things happen during the pandemic, but the essential story is not affected.

Jamaicans buy lots of imported things-the weaker Jamaican dollar can hurt them (consumers and producers and retailers), if its effect is passed on into prices. Their voices tend to be loud and more often heard. The impression given is that the country is suffering when the rate goes to, say, J$154:US$1, as it did this week.

Jamaicans receive large amounts of remittances from overseas-the weaker Jamaican dollar can help them as they get more J$ for every US$ or UK£ they receive. They often are not heard complaining or their views sought when the rate goes to, say, J$154:US$1, as it did this week.

The reality we know and must see is that many Jamaicans are surviving better because of the weaker J$. Why? Because ‘weakness’ is the lot of those who don’t have FX assets or inflows. Those with such assets are smiling and happy that they are protected from the FX movement and may actually be gaining purchasing/spending power.

Now, I don’t expect those who are gainers to get up and start beating their chests, but have a look around. If you wonder why the Jamaican economy has not gone into a deep spiral downward because of the pandemic, especially its impact on local tourism, with far fewer foreigners coming to this lovely island and spending their money on fares, and hotels, and trips, and trinkets, and food, etc. Sure, economic indicators show negative growth and tendencies, but not as bad as some expected. Why? Because Jamaicans abroad have been sending to friends and family here huge gobbets of US$ and UK£.

According to a report from the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), the amount of total remittances for the period from January 1 to December 31, 2020, was US$2.91 billion. This represented an increase of 20 percent over the same period in 2019, which totalled US$2.47 billion. Over 2/3 of these inflows came from the USA. (In December of 2020, net remittances totalled US$282.4 million, an increase of US$79.9 million, or 39.5 percent, over the total amount in December 2019. The BOJ attributed that increase to a rise in gross remittance inflows of 35.3 percent (US$78.7 million) helped by a reduction of 6.2 percent (US$1.2 million) in outflows. The rise in gross remittance inflows stemmed from an improvement measuring 42.7 percent in inflows through remittance companies and a rise in other remittances of 0.7 percent for December 2020.)

Those remittances almost offset what was lost from tourism.

So, next time you hear the catawauling about the exchange rate remember it’s those who’re suffering who making noise. Those who are gaining, are kicking back and eating oxtail and curry gravy. 🙂

COVID takes a new downturn in Jamaica, but vaccination programme has to stall-April 22, 2021

Health and wellness minister, Dr. Chris Tufton, gave Parliament an update, yesterday, on COVID issues and the vaccination programme:

Key points are in the following Twitter thread:

Notably, the reproductive rate has fallen from about 1.3 to 0.9, indicating the chances of spread are lessening. Also, positivity rates have fallen from near 40% to about 15%.

Data show that COVID trends are improving. The vaccination programme has stalled because of the slow supply coming from COVAX.

He also addressed reports of health workers coming under attack:

Such attacks have included death threats to the chief medical officer.