I’m not a night owl, so when I was asked to do a webinar I was gungho till I heard it would start at 7.30pm ‘backstage’ and go live at 8pm. We seniors need our rest; I’m up before 5am most days. But, the hosts were so charming and when I had the run through with Kenia Mattis on Monday, I told myself to ‘man up’ and take an even longer nap so that I would not be all droopy eyed. Well, so much for the nap and my mind was racing all over the place as Parliament opened and bits of news filtered through about the latest shenanigans in the PNP.
Anyway, we got underway as scheduled, so watch the recording and I’ll be happy to field any questions or comments on what I had to offer.
As an economist, I see the ‘financing’ a bit differently from Gary Peart and Dahlia Harris, in that I think about what support needs to be in terms of its ultimate value. So, as I tried to explain, a person seeking support for a creative venture is seeking money as a means to an end, but may find life easier being direct about getting the support for the ‘end’, say the building of a workshop. So, a supporter who’s prepared to provide materials and labour is better in that this removes a layer of negotiating to get to the real objective. That’s just to stress that those demanding support need to be nimble in seeing what opportunities present themselves and not be fixated on that support being in monetary form.
My economics training helps me understand the importance of various forms of economic integration. Much of this happens spontaneously—I mentioned last night the clustering of car component firms in the metropolitan area around Hagley Park Road. Sometimes, it needs some help from the State or other interest support groups.
I think such integration is important going forward and see glimpses of it in Jamaica is the beginnings of ‘incubating’ communities, where creative people can integrate and build synergies. I mentioned communities known for being the homes of many creative spirits, such as Greenwich Village in New York City. But, the Village is the home of many ‘fringe’ elements, and is seen as ‘counter cultural’. I’d like to think of it as Bohemian, and think of places like Notting Hill, in west London, in a similar way. But, world-wide, creativity can originate anywhere, but it sometimes needs some clustering to be better nurtured.
One of the features in many developed societies is for such clustering to be part of the resurgence of urban areas (aka ‘gentrification’). Though not really a feature in Jamaica or many developing countries, I’m looking at what groups like Jamaica Creatives are doing in downtown Kingston to see if it is planting such ‘green shoots’. The government now has a Cabinet minister in charge of urban renewal, so let’s see what he brings to the table.
That said, Jamaica’s cultural heritage is national and its rural roots and underpinning are as important and anything that happens in the capitaland the metropolitan area.
If you try to fathom what’s going on at any time, it can be a challenge working out the logic behind what you’re seeing. So, a couple of COVID-19-related things passed my eyes in recent days and made me go “What?”
During the pandemic you’d not expect doctors and medical services to be less in demand, yet I read that many family practices are having to close their offices (‘surgeries’ in the UK) 🤔😳 In part, there’s a lack of patients because people are isolating through fear COVID-19 spread, or doctors are closing practices for fear of the risk of spread.
A lot more .. and the COVID-19 Diagnosis guarantees payment .. unfortunately 90% of the Doctors Offices .. Medical Clinics and Specialty Hospitals are closing down and laying off Healthcare Workers .. just not enough COVID-19 to go around ..😎.. https://t.co/jodndtkFn8
In some jurisdictions, it’s also become an issue of funding; not necessarily cuts, but some reprioritization and in the case of the USA financial benefits that come from how illnesses and deaths are categorized. Simply put, ‘COVID-19-related’ means more money.
Closing of medical facilities, however, may also open opportunities for medical practices in other forms, eg becoming a ‘locum’:
So, the reconfiguration of economies and work is taking place in many areas.
The surge in home-preparation of food has resulted in shortages of canning supplies, price hikes are now being seen in some areas—simple supply and demand, mainly. (For my sins, I have an ample supply of sealable jars from keeping those from previous use and begging for them in the past.)
A major headache being seen worldwide is getting people to apply a simple set of health protocols—wearing masks, keeping distance, and hand sanitizing. What’s been clear is that most people have gotten the messages about how COVID-19 spreads and how that spread can be minimized. But, either because personal resistance is based on individual risk assessments that the virus will not be harmful or that the person concerned wont be a carrier/spreader, people are rule-breaking. Now, this is happening even when the consequences are heavy and quickly applied.
We’ve seen or heard or read of many egregious cases involving ‘celebrities’, the most recent of which to hit my synapses was two young English professional footballers (Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood), who invited women into the team hotel during a tournament in Iceland. Lots of breaches.
Quite simply, what were they thinking? After team talks and national warnings by the Icelandic authorities? Now, lots of damage control—of image, of other players, of reputations, maybe even careers down the tube. For what? A bit of pokey? Youthful exuberance? Meet stark reality. 🤔😳
We get to cast our judgement more on those who have many privileges and seem all too ready to abuse them. So, the landscape of faux pas has included senior health officials!!!!
“The chief medical officer had fronted TV and radio adverts urging the public to stay at home to save lives and protect the NHS…” 🤔🤔 Coronavirus: Scotland's chief medical officer resigns over lockdown trips https://t.co/skHF4FoyXz
As the report above shows, these breaches have been going on from almost the get-go. So, any talk about ‘fatigue’ with applying rules and protocols should get shoved right back from where they came. 😦
Most of us have seen images of masses of people at beaches, by rivers, in parks, in street raves, etc, clinging together, without masks and if they had been sanitized at the outset, the effectiveness of that has long gone. We’ve had plenty of local incidents in Jamaica, most notably of late, Usain Bolt’s birthday bash—which, we now learn was dutifully sanctioned with an entertainment licence. Ironically, a Jamaican-British football teammate (Raheem Sterling) of the Icelandic rompers was present at that event, along with another Jamaican footballer playing in Germany (Leon Bailey). Whether they broke our local 14-day quarantine rules is still—-really?—being determined. But, the question has to be what part of ‘compromising behaviour’ isn’t understood? Elite athletes are not like other humans, at their peak, but they better wise up to how fragile their ‘skills’ and ‘livelihoods’ can be.
Which brings me to where we are in Jamaica. The government has decided to try to address the existence of ‘community transmission’ by tightening restrictions from September 8 through to September 23: mainly, longer curfews, stay-at-home orders for vulnerable groups (over-70s), encouraging ‘work from home’ provisions, limiting congregating etc., and trying to apply more strictly mask-wearing, with threats of prosecution.
Given the rising numbers, we have to tighten some of our measures, initially for a two-week period.
The islandwide curfew time will be brought forward from 9pm to 8pm starting September 8, 2020 at 8pm ending the following morning at 5am each day until 5am September 23, 2020.
By contrast, the UK, one of many countries that have seen in recent weeks and month a sharp escalation of positive cases (around 3,000 a day for three consecutive days) and deaths, has gone to the heart of family life, by limiting congregating to no more than 6 people (from the current maximum of 30—indoors and outdoors—from next Monday.
Social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England from Monday – with some exemptions – amid a steep rise in coronavirus cases https://t.co/vKKfIuq35L
Rumours are that nighttime curfew may be added to that mix.
But, the worldwide problems we see in getting adherence to health protocols may (just) be good old ‘cognitive dissonance’—a person holds contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, and is typically experienced as psychological stress when they participate in an action that goes against one or more of them:
The stresses may not be as visible to us, daily, but we are seeing that ‘coping’ is talking on some strange forms.
It’s also a display of something well-known in social sciences that once behaviour is under scrutiny, it changes to avoid scrutiny; this often happens with ‘corrective’ policies that lead to a raft of circumventing actions, legal if loopholes exist, or illegal. The urge to continue with ‘bad’ behaviour is strong.
The resistance behaviour has taken on political dimensions in many places, most notably, the US, but swelling discontent has also reared its head in the UK—both these countries are odd because they’ve been amongst the worst in applying such protocols; but maybe the backlash is coming from a different and lower base of initial acceptance. I was intrigued to see footage of masked people ripping off their masks to ‘rescue’ someone who was being arrested for not wearing a mask.
Unless you’ve only just come across me, you should know I’m not one for several things, including sychophancy and bluster. So, I was a bit surprised at myself as I listened to newly-sworn-in PM Andrew Holness reel off a string of things that new #NewJamaica would soon be getting. I was more taken, I guess, because the PM and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had run on a platform of performance and achievements, a point he repeated in marking the basis of his party’s victory. So, I felt his words carried real weight:
“This government has been given a mandate to move with speed and alacrity in fulfilling the great destiny of this country. We will not squander it. We will use it wisely to build public trust.”
I heard mention of several things, that if they came through, would make the Jamaica that my daughter may find at the end of her college years—she’s a high school senior—would seem a lot like many of the places she’s visited that have written all over them ‘this is the place to be’. The essence of that feeling has been around for a while; it’s the message of Vision 2030: ‘The comprehensive vision of the national development plan is to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business…’
This world would have:
Internet coverage – Mr. Holness said his government will expand broadband in public schools. He indicated that six new science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) academies will be created.
“We’re committed to closing the digital divide,” Holness promised.
He said that all town centres will be serviced with free Wi-Fi as well as community access points. The public sector is to be further digitised and the National Identification System is to be implemented.
Telecommunication – Mr. Holness promised that soon there will be no more dropped calls. He says the government will build a national broadband infrastructure to be managed by a public-private entity.
“The network will be appropriately sized. This will be the new information highway,”
Now, my youngest daughter wasn’t born in Jamaica, but has been living here for the past 7 years and says she wants to live in Jamaica after she graduates from college. She’s made that easier by becoming a Jamaican citizen. First, I admire her commitment to finish education at university, not just at high school. Second, her sentiment is one that I have heard from several of her peers; children who have had more than a little glimpse of life elsewhere and its not shabby bits. Most of them come from families who livelihood have been made fully in Jamaica since Independence, some from long before. Third, this is her choice. Now, come 2025, she may say, “Daddy, I don’t think I want to live in Jamaica…” But, for now…
The swearing-in speech had lots of good-sounding nuggets, including a few throw-away comments, such as “No dropped calls”. I think I could hear the cheer across the Corporate area as those words echoed.
But, besides that and promises of WiFi in every town centre and the end to water supply woes, I heard the setting up of an ethical framework for governing that was as new a freshly minted money. The watch word was ‘integrity’. (This is an understandable repositioning, after an administration that was dogged by allegations of malfeasance and cronyism.) Now, I’ve often said that ‘integrity’ is not in any dictionary in Jamaica. But, the list of governance things outlined impressed me:
We commit to making this Government the highest in integrity, dignity and efficiency.
Each elected representative and each appointed minister will participate in training through the Integrity Commission so they are seized of their duties under the law and understand that this is an accountable Government.
If I could really believe that Jamaica would be governed by people who saw themselves last in line, if in line at all, I’d wonder if I was dreaming. Selflessness amongst politicians isn’t easy to find in Jamaica.
Now, I’m also not one for lots of privilege that really isn’t warranted, and in that vein, I don’t much care for the assumptions of many politicians that we are their doormats. Though, it may not register so with them, that’s a feeling many have had about the way ordinary people’s needs are subordinated to those who are supposed to be serving them.
Now, I don’t think any Jamaican politician will be say “I don’t want this car” and ditch the paid-for SUV, but I’d maybe like to see some gestures to being more ordinary than exceptional. Call that humility.
If Jamaica is governed by humbled people, committed to serve on the basis of good ethical standards, then for sure the Vision 2030 outlook is really up for grabs.
Oddly, I’m not really too concerned, yet, about what I hear about economic recovery plans, because we are still not sure if we are the bottom of economic decline and the top of the COVID-19 health crisis. But, I expect to hear more clearly how that will be managed well before end-year.
As I woke early, as usual, I was excited to go to vote later. As a non-partisan, my first thought was simple: who needs my vote and who wants my vote? Then, who’ll get my vote? 🤔🇯🇲
Why did the orange party field a candidate in my constituency who did not even reach out to voters? They’re telling me to chuck my vote to the green team, it seems. If you know where I live, you’ll get my point.
Did I matter so little that not even a voter guide was left at my home? Not even one degeh-degeh pamphlet that’ll be only of historical interest, tomorrow? Tschooops! 😏
Please don’t run with ‘care for the people’ slogans near me! 😡
As a potential swing voter, what would sway me? Showing you don’t care will certainly not get my interest 🤬
Frankly, I wasn’t impressed by the orange manifesto: too much pie in the sky and little idea about how they’d be paid for. Not the stuff to tempt an economist. Also, not the stuff I’d expect from a party whose leader was the finance minister who could claim, unreservedly, to have set Jamaica on a clear path of macroeconomic stability.
The greens wanted me to focus on their achievements, and it’s easy to do do. But, I’m less impressed by cyaapet that crumbles in the first set of heavy rain. It wasn’t just during the past weeks that the shoddiness of the roadworks was apparent.
I never bought ‘5 in 4’ on grounds of simple unbelievable logic: I said it openly from the get-go. That it was downgraded to “aspirational” told me that my notions were right.
I saw ‘1.5’ as a potentially winning ploy in 2016 and it worked. I also didn’t believe that it could be f dat one with “no new taxes”—$30 billion of extra tax revenue later, my eyes hadn’t lost sight of the ball.
I’m a decent bridge player. Some hands of cards are easy to play. But, the party that had a solid hand but forgot what ‘contract’ they were in must find themselves looking at opportunities lost. You call ‘house’ for a win in bingo; different game. Calling ‘house’ like you call ‘fire’ in an election in a country where everyone is being urged to own a home will get you badly burned. So, PNP were in 2016. But, for 4 more years they wandered around like a child with ADHD; no focus.
Hindsight only matters if you heed its lessons. If you don’t, you’re just being nostalgic. Looking back, constantly, is a sign of uncertainty.
The world has changed; image management matters more. JLP won the image and PR game early and rarely looked threatened. Not everyone seems the little things, I do. When I saw this PNP tweet this morning, it said one thing: ‘out dated’. Really, a white, flaired pants outfit? Pure 1970s—therein, subliminally, is a problem.
Elections aren’t about what’s best, but simply what’s better; it’s always about small margins not big gaps.
Like many recent elections, this one will be down to small margins. Pollsters put JLP way ahead, but I foresee a closer contest. 32:31 was the margin in 2016. I see no reason why it can’t be that close again. Only 48% of the electorate voted in 2016; it could easily be no more than 40% today; COVID19 anxiety is strong. But, I’m not into forecasting elections.
Last night’s third national debate had much more bite and cut and thrust. This was a heavyweight bout and fireworks were flying. This wasn’t the hurling of brickbats we see in Parliament, but it also wasn’t the genteel fireside chat of the previous debate on economy and finance. Each man had his prey in sight and went for the kill shot early and often. That’s how we got to meet “Mas’ Tom” to help him with stories to lambast Dr. Phillips, whom he quickly dubbed “Pappa Tax”. Some may not like that, but it’s at least gives a sense that blood runs through their veins.
We saw a PM standing firmly on his government’s record of achievement. Getting things done was the mantra, whatever choice of words or actions described.
We saw an Opposition leader who had energy and clarity and qualities of a potential national government leader. His focus tended to be on betterment of people and opportunities for them to achieve that.
Questions were mostly well-pointed, especially those from Dionne Jackson-Miller, who was the real winner, for probing and persistence. But, that’s her norm.
George Davis punched well, too, but didn’t connect as well as DJM. She came with zinger upper cuts on matters to do with the PM’s apparent repeated disregard for the Constitution:
I, personally, put much store in the array of numbers trotted out in these kinds of debates, because I know that the ‘truth’ being delivered is whatever version of ‘facts’ the speaker wants. We may sometimes be asked to compare apples and pears, but without the option to clarify which. But, I notice where people stumble over numbers. So, the fuzzy maths about housing starts doesn’t really move me. But, I find odd that Dr. Phillips stumbled over the number of years of Jamaica’s independence “52…58”, not least because he has lived them all. 🤔 What did the PM mean when talking about “flattening the murder rate”? Too many COVID-19 updates, I fear. Who wants murders ‘flattening’ around 1000 a year?
I’m also not too bothered by what is really hype; image is part and parcel of the whole political game. So, we had the PM strutting onto the stage sporting his now iconic green Clarks shoes. If we didn’t see them during the walk-on, we got them at the end with the ‘elbow bump’ farewell (see below). But, not everyone likes the shoes.
I was bothered by the PM’s rambling answer to the question of how he’s dealt with corruption or misgovernance within his administration, for which I think he should get little credit for what has been at best ambivalence and at worst tolerance of corruption—and perception is key in that waving hands to show they are clean doesn’t cut it for most people when they see what ‘dirt’ has been blowing around. We have court cases pending, so the legal system may not come down definitively on the matter of crimes committed, but the stench that’s been lingering hasn’t been sweet.
The PM was duly criticized for the way he has accumulated power into his own hands (minister of 6 portfolios), and in the Office of the Prime Minister—“the Ministry of everything“. That allowed Dr. Phillips to contrast himself as being more about ’Team’. (In truth, that may be a way of making sure he doesn’t go down alone with the ship ‘Orange Manifesto’).
Again, time management reared its head, and both leaders struggled mightily to get their words out in the allotted time. In my opinion, the PM was guilty of this to an egregious extent bordering on rudeness in pushing through to the end of his desired words, despite calls to stop by the moderator. That’s disrespectful on several levels, but it’s also telling about how ‘power’ is seen by some.
The PM stressed leadership, strength, and stamina—a set of metaphors for youthfulness—and who can get things done.
Many people ‘scored’ the debate at worst a tie and a best a clear win for Dr. Phillips.
More elaborate polling is also underway:
Although, I thought the discussion panel for the economy/finance debate was weak in not committing themselves to identifying a winner, I wasn’t taken by the elaborate scoring method that was employed last night, which seemed like a means to force decisions.
On final optics, both remembered to urged voters to cast their ballots, appropriately. They were also each given a chance to send a message about voting safely in COVID-risky times.
The debate was a warning about polls. Dr. Phillips has been trailing badly in favourability ratings for months, by some 40 percentage points.
However, on his performance last night, whatever his ‘favourability’, he was at least a match for the PM. That may spur some to give PNP candidates a boost, feeling that the leader isn’t such a loser, after all. However, his performance may do little to change the other poll view that PNP has performed poorly and is disunited.
My takeaway from the debates, especially this last one, is what economics tells us is important: what shifts sentiments. Jamaica’s electorate is fickle and has shown it’s ready to dump an administration that has done many good things for the population, but can get overtaken by the lure of a juicy present (in 2016, ‘1.5’ [J$1.5 million tax threshold] did the trick). (People may now have views about how good was the cut in income tax being offset by increases in GCT and other indirect taxes.) This time around, I don’t thing the bag of goodies offered by PNP will do it, but a funny conundrum about what the current administration represents in all its pushing to archive may create its downfall. It’s often not really taken people along with it. Those with better memories will look at the road programs and how pretty the ‘cyaapet’ is but not forget the months of mayhem it inflicted on many of us, and how many loud concerns went unheeded. Last week’s heavy rains also showed that the quality of some of this work is shoddy. The management of the pandemic may be such an event, where the sense of calling elections when the spike is clear will strike some as another rung on the ladder of disregard for popular concerns. That’s separate from addressing what would have been a better time. So, I’m positioned to see a closer election than many predict. I have no money or reputation on the line, but want to see if those rumblings in my gut are meaningful.
Jamaicans tuned in or logged on Thursday night (August 27) for the 2nd national debate leading into the general elections. It had been billed as a ‘heavyweight clash’ and we were told to expect ‘fireworks’ by one of the main newspapers as well as the host of the TVJ pre- and post-debate discussions (Emily Shields).
It never lived up to that billing, in my opinion, and that of many others.
The general impression was that, while Nigel Clarke seemed to have been the clear winner, both he and Mark Golding put in performances well below their best. Clarke won in many views for style and confidence; Golding gained praise for content in many of his replies.
Both debaters are great gentlemen, and they have moved into representational politics after solid careers in business and finance (Clarke) and finance and law (Golding). Both are very articulate. I don’t think this made them great material for TV debates, not that their fields were not competitive or abrasive, just that their manners are not usually in that direction.
So, I’ve my general doubts about them in the cut and thrust of Jamaican representational politics; they were excellent senators. Golding was Justice Minister (2012-16) as a senator, not becoming an MP till 2017, after PNP lost the 2016 election. Clarke had been a senator (2013-15) before serving as Jamaica’s Ambassador-at-Large for Economic Affairs within the Office of the Prime Minister from 2016, until he was elected an MP in early-2018.
So, one thing going for them in the debates was expected to be their solid credentials on the subject matter.
It’s also a sad reality, though, that once you’ve had a certain kind and level of education, it’s hard to unlearn some lessons. So, Mark Golding (Campion College and Oxford University) and Nigel Clarke (Munro College and Oxford University) are more like peas in a pod rather than oil and water. They find it easier really to be in agreement that violently in disagreement. But, watch, if you will, some or all of the debate:
I didn’t find most of what they had to say that riveting, and became more interested in aspects of their performance.
Golding began nervously and tried to lay the ground that Jamaica has PNP/Peter Phillips–as ‘Mr Fix it’–to thank for setting the solid macroeconomic base on which JLP/Clarke has built. But, in that opening, he hit his own Achilles heel—an inability to manage time so that his points could be made fully. As things went along, I sensed that Clarke noted this and tried to get in crisper replies to avoid the same trouble. It didn’t work consistently and he too was hit by ‘the buzzer’ and being cut off by the moderator/main questioner.
In truth, the two parties want to promote similar things: mainly, jobs, education, housing, and infrastructural development. As a result, at times, the debate was more like a minor squabble in the playground as the two traded numbers for each objective, and the gunpowder was damp in the fireworks that they tried to light near each other’s home. Some of the fireworks never exploded after launch.
They sniped more often at each leader. Clarke called Peter Phillips the “architect of destruction” of the economy-rather odd, given that he has happily built on the macroeconomic stability that Phillips achieved as finance minister and for which he won the accolade of Gleaner ‘man of the year’ in 2015. He also said PNP’s package represented a “big back of tricks”. Golding said the Office of the Prime Minister had become a “holding cell” for corrupt Cabinet ministers. Some of the other barbs are shown below:
They had a couple of simple jobs to do heading into the elections. Golding needed to defend the manifesto his party had put out, but revised hastily after that, which made it look slapdash, at least.
Now, it is a nifty document that allows the creation of a customized manifesto based on information you feed in. However, to get that, you have to register and log in and give some ‘personal’ details, which need not be true. Well, that opened up the charge on ‘privacy rights’. Whether or not it was a real issue, it was ‘out there’.
Then, came a flurry of revisions ahead of the debate, namely to amend the coverage of the utilities subsidies. That opened the PNP to a string of criticism during the day and during the debate about which plan was being referred to.
“Monday plan Wednesday plan The one Damion talked about on the radio… 2’oclock PM plan… 6’oclock PM plan… I don’t even know which plan to respond to” Clarke quipped.
Golding struggled many times to defend the document—explaining the cost and funding of the plan was a problem. Clarke said it added up to J$100bn; Golding said it was J$70bn and would be covered by repriotizing spending. But, many want to know if it can it happen without new taxes.
Both debaters were often drowning in numbers on jobs, poverty, growth phases, etc. I wondered if many had the feeling they were not getting a picture of what really happened in the economy, ie real gains and real pain. Talking about these things as abstracts is quite different to say something like ‘2000 unemployed women now have jobs in…’ It felt sterile to me. But, honestly, it’s often that way at the highest policy levels.
Most polls I’ve seen show Clarke was viewed as a clear winner.
I was struck that neither tried to put Jamaica’s current situation and any outlook into a clear global economic context, albeit driven by a health crisis.
Opinions seem divided on how Clarke handled the thorny topic of the objective to grow the economy by 5% in 4 years (5in4): Clarke went to the purpose of growth: employment, reduce poverty, increase tax revenues that allowed higher public investment, etc. He positioned growth as a means to these ends; and the government had “achieved the ends”. Of course, we want to growth faster, he added. “Brilliant answer,” said Emily Shields in the post-debate discussion. I thought it was a good repositioning by a finance minister who too office long after his predecessor and PM had committed to it, and avoided possibly throwing them under a large bus.
Clarke also ended cleverly by starting his closing statement is regal or priministerial style: “My fellow Jamaicans…” and reminded people to vote JLP 🙂
Golding closed by reminding people of the public health crisis and an economy reeling. He seemed relieved at the end 🙂 His self-assessment was honest, and he noted how timing had not been his friend. Clarke’s self assessment was calmly assured.
Discussion of the debate by a panel of ‘economists’ was interesting but nothing much came up that surprised until the end, when none of them wanted to ‘declare a winner’. Some intellectual arguments were put forward, but it seemed a bit cowardly, and perhaps a bit elitist that their personal views were too important to share. I’ve a suspicion that behind the reluctance is some sense that their views will be held against them, at some later stage. Watch and see:
The debates are really stand-alone and don’t really set each other up. So, the last, on Saturday night, between the two party leaders, should cover all possible grounds and could—we hope and pray—get a bit tasty.
Election Day is September 3, and the first of three debates will be tonight.
You can keep track on a scorecard provided by the Jamaica Debates Commission:
I’d hoped to read at least part of both manifestos by now, but the JLP hasn’t got theirs ready, yet—due out this morning. (I could make the obvious point about how daft it seems that the party that had the election timing in its control couldn’t have its manifesto out first.)
Instead, we have the LalaLand Manifesto of the Jamaica Progressive Party. I’m being uncharacteristically harsh on that, because it was the tail of a damp squib of an election appearance, because the party pulled out days after issuing the manifesto. It was manifestly a non-flyer. It would not get on the manifest of an plane except to see Barnum and Bailey. They will be the butt of jokes for days, and deservedly for the many dreams of untold riches that were snatched from our grasps.
PNP has come out with a nifty ‘personal’ manifesto. It’s cool in that you don’t have to provide a real profile, so you can see how you’d fare, for instance, if you were a rich, transvestite with a family of four, and a herd of pangolin living in St. Elizabeth. There’s hope for all, in that sort of offering.
But, as we’re really talking about the political heavyweights, I’d like to have both JLP and PNP story books at the same time. I’d also have preferred if a bit more technological flair had been shown and I could have had the documents in audio file form, so that during the likely many days of being locked in, I have lots of material to listen to and dream the days away. So, let me hold off.
The thought that’s going through my mind is just a simple one: What does each party stand for? Once upon a time in my life, I had a clearer idea of different philosophies driving the parties and their policies. That was clearer to me from I could really think about these things in the 1970s through 1990s, and I had the clear social democratic dreams of Michael Manley to look at and a more capitalistic and business-oriented and US-focused stance of Edward Seaga.
Now, it’s a bit harder to describe in a substantive way. I asked my wife and she said ‘Prosperity; focus on growth’ versus ‘Cater to the people’s needs’. I’ll not hold her feet to the fire on this, but it tells me that the ideas are a bit squishy. Maybe, that allows for more chewing away at the middle ground of people’s desire for better lives shaping it is slightly different images.
More assuredly, after the current administration, the JLP can put itself forward as a party that is set on ‘getting things done’ and appearing to get them done quickly. One of the problems with the PNP’s cries that much of this is building, literally, on their plans, is that people wonder why the plans were languishing. Ideas that don’t materialize aren’t worth much.
The real meaning of support for each party is maybe quite basic for lots of people and it’s not about grand images that show a Jamaica in totality, but the state of a community, say, that looks different then than it does now. Hence, politicians’ focus on basic services, like water and roads. It’s embarrassing to the nation that water supply is still such a thorny issue across the country. The state of roads is, sadly, going to be an unwanted thorn to the administration, after Tropical Storm Laura lashed us this weekend and many roads—including the crispy ‘cyaapet’ are now in a flooded or washed away shambles.
The damage to the rural roads cement (no pun) a tale that is as old as most people, of roads that are just not fit for purpose.
The damage to newly constructed stretches tells us that little has changed: US$20 million spent and what? Many will smell a familiar rat when learning that new roads were built without drainage systems. ‘Tom drunk, but Tom is no fool.’ 😦
The most that any party can do in coming days is make more promises about the provision and the maintenance, but memories will be fresh of what those realities are.
I don’t want to keep harping on about the things that can turn a near ‘slam dunk’ election win into a ‘squeaky bum’ nail biter, but you’re seeing some of them with the impact of nature on the national ability to move. That’s one of the problems with any idea of delaying elections, as far as the government is concerned: more stuff can go wrong.
In this narrow, optic, then, it’s not going to do the government too much harm that the pandemic has forced its hand to tighten restrictions again, with effect from tomorrow.
While, it’s easy to see a cynical take to that, it’s also what people have been clamouring for as the infection numbers rise sharply. But, as cards get handed out to play in coming days, it’s going to be a nervous time seeing whether some of them are hard to play with a positive air or if they are just to be turned over with hope of drawing a better one. Nature is not a controllable beast and, during hurricane season… 🙂
Breaking into the Independence Day holiday, the PM held a surprise digital press briefing last night. It should have been obvious that it would deal with the recent sharp increase in COVID19 cases on the island, not naming a date for general elections.
To make the point, he stated that 30 news cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours, the amongst the moston any day. We’d already seen a sharp rise in hospitalizations earlier in the week.
#JaCOVIDUpdate Jamaica has in the last 24hrs recorded 30 new cases of COVID-19 • 4 imported cases • 26 other cases from Clarendon (11), St. Thomas (11), Kingston & St Andrew (2), St Catherine (1) and St Mary (1) • 5 are contacts of confirmed cases • 21 under investigation pic.twitter.com/euGxJVqOjs
This had been triggered after two cases were admitted to hospital and community surveillance noted extensive non-adherence to health protocols with crowds gathering without face masks and social distancing.
That’s been a persistent theme in recent weeks, and many anecdotal expressions of concern pointed to the feeling that for many ‘COVID nah keep’ (ie the virus risks have passed).
During his briefing, the PM added that Church Corner (ironically named), a community in St. Thomas, would be quarantined for 14 days from later in the evening.
What has caused problems in that rural community is a familiar story of people arriving on the island and roaming around without regard to the health protocols, even though supposed to be under quarantine. In this area, we heard of an infected person traveling from St. Catherine to St. Thomas to be prayed for and gatherings of people without much regard for health protocols. In addition, a pastor held a ‘convention’ in a building that had no protocols on numbers, masks, sanitization stations, etc. Out of those incidents, some 28 infected cases had been reported.
These quarantined areas will see limited movement within, and have to live with the added restrictions of designated shopping days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) during the period, and only essential trips during the day, eg to get medicines from nearest locations.
Persons will be allowed to leave home even if it is not a shopping day to obtain urgent medical care, fill a prescription or obtain required over the counter medication and in this regard we intend to have the NHF Drug Serv Mobile Units available in the affected communities
This was the more recent backdrop for the PM stressing that the country is moving dangerously close to the threshold where a lockdown may have to be reimposed.
You will recall, we had done a simple projection of the number of cases that could result from the acceleration of the controlled entry programme (based on a 0.7% positivity rate that we had observed after June 30). This projection is shown by the dashed black line. pic.twitter.com/ykKZpqHeC8
His tone got more frustrated as he went through the numbers and ended with the Jamaican stricture that ‘If you cyaa hear, you mus’ feel’ (ie no pain, no gain).
So, the country will go into a new phase from early next week, likely Tuesday, as consultations with main stakeholders have yet to be completed, and it’s a holiday weekend. In that regard, the PM did not suggest any curtailment of enjoyment, but the message was clear that people need to take the health protocols seriously.
In every speech, I have encouraged persons to follow the infection prevention and control protocols – wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance.
The problems with outdoor entertainment have been well-noted, and the minister for local government met with key stakeholders on Thursday. Entertainments have suffered immensely, marked as such by the fact that the Independence celebrations were virtual, ending just before the media briefing.
Many will say ‘You brought this on yourself, and ignorance and willfulness are now showing that selfish behaviour is costing everyone their liberty’ or words to that effect. Tougher measures to enforce and prosecute are on their way—‘Hear, hear! many will say.’
So, the day ended with a sombre tone, but not a message that surprised many. The recurrence of large numbers of new cases has occurred in many countries, and nearer to home, The Bahamas reintroduced at 14 day lockdown earlier this week. The risk was always there that once borders reopened that would signal a change and it was then a matter of how personal responsibility would be embraced. In our communities, we’re also dealing with long-standing belief that prayer and church gatherings would heal all ills, and rather than use standard health facilities, people would revert to ‘tried and tested’ homemade remedies. If any of that is working, it’s not doing so without also spreading infection.
There’s a sense of seething anger in the area, because many have made immense personal sacrifices to try to keep the pandemic under control and it’s again evident that but for a few all of that could be wasted, or for very little. If any of that anger starts to spill over, we’ll see how far that runs. Many people are frightened by the virus, but also know that in many areas, ignorance and superstition reign and drive people towards ostracizing those who may have symptoms. That easily explains why people don’t present themselves at hospitals earlier. But, that must change.
For context, I started my working life as a transport economist, working largely in conjunction with Crosville Motor Services, a branch of the then National Bus Service, which operated in the Northwest of England and North and West Wales.
It was during a time when local government could subsidize rural transport; I was working for the county council.
For the longest while I’ve struggled to understand how Jamaica’s public transport sector survives. For JUTC, the public bus service provider for the Corporate Area, the answer is simple: all of its inefficiencies—its operations are loss-making and it is overstaffed—get passed on to the tax payer to cover in subsidies (now about J$7 billion) to cover a projected loss for FY 2020-21 (before COVID) of some J$11 billion.
The recent report by the Auditor General covering 2014-19 about the range of malfeasance within the company merely puts flesh on the bones of some of that inefficiency. In past years, we have known that the enterprise was a ‘feeding trough’ and used as one of several avenues for political party favours in terms of ‘jobs for the boys’. We learned more about the corrupt practices of staff (namely the ticket scam) and how that was dealt with mainly by moving to cashless ticketing. Those kind of malpractices aren’t surprising in any enterprise that handles large amounts of cash without appropriate checks and balances and has a large staff complement. The main points of the report, as summarized by The Gleaner bear this out (my stress):
1. Board of directors failed to implement the necessary internal controls to protect the financial resources of the company. 2. Had an unapproved staff capacity costing an accumulated $1.15 billion that was not leveraged for operational efficiency. 3. Management exceeded the overtime budget by $728.6 million, despite excess staff capacity. 4. Failed to advertise vacant positions and engaged staff in unapproved positions or without the minimum qualifications in breach of its human resource administration policy and procurement guidelines. 5. The Ministry of Transport and Works was deficient in its oversight of the JUTC to ensure adherence to the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and the GOJ Corporate Governance Framework. 6. Board failed to implement recommendations of the Internal Audit Committee. 7. Ministry did not ensure that the board adhered to the Risk Management Framework to protect the interest of the JUTC
Other issues in the report: 1) Net accumulated shortage of more than 231,000 litres of fuel valued at approximately $36.5 million between 2014-15 and 2018-19. 2) 36.5 per cent decline in ridership between 2014-15 and 2018-19. 3) 11.6 per cent decline in available bus service between 2014-15 and 2018-19 4) $178.7 million of obsolete spare parts at end of 2018-19. 5) 16 buses (average) out of service for 139 days (average) awaiting parts.
So, in an area where people are heavily dependent on public transport, JUTC managed to under provide, significantly, and faced a massive decline in ridership. That, at a time when fares are relatively low.
As such, they can only really survive as long as they help ‘bring in’ substantial benefits. One obvious route (no pun) was as a simple cash cow. In 2015, the JUTC chairman (Dr. Garnett Roper) cited the “relationship between the irregular [hackney carriers using their vehicles as robots], the illegal and the criminal. A substantial number of the taxis that you see on the road are owned by sections of organised crime.”
Put simply, the economics of privately operated public transport in Jamaica operations don’t make sense: fares are too low to cover costs; fuel and taxes drain them, severely. So, it’s no surprise to me that we are seeing that squeeze pinch hard. Why? Economic shocks have a way of pushing illicit activities out from their cover. So, the extreme drop in ability to operate must weed out quickly the marginal operators, at least, and those who have to rely on volume to even appear viable. So, when the taxi operators are literally begging for mercy it’s because they really have reached a tipping point. The fact that they are willing to say they operate in a corrupt system is like the dying screech of a seal about to get eaten by a whale.
Jamaica’s public transport system needs a complete overhaul, but I doubt if that will happen soon or fast, not least because the many vested and dark interests need to have their cases properly addressed. Few modern public road transport systems have avoided these massive shake outs, and the economic carnage that is associated with them is unavoidable and painful, and I can’t see how Jamaica’s can be any different.
Photo Credit: Bob Akester-scene with Brendan Gleeson in ‘Lake Placid’
I have a lot of time and real admiration for our central bank, Bank of Jamaica; after all, I worked for 10 years at the Bank of England 🙂 But, my feelings are not knee-jerk ones of kindred spirits. I really admire what they are trying to do to make their business more understandable for a wider audience.
The principles, practices and language of central banking are not always easy to understand. Most people understand what money is, though they may have to be guided to realise it’s not just cash, but also money held on deposit to be used in payment; that it can include domestic currency as well as foreign currencies.
The exchange rate and foreign currency loom large in the thinking of countries like Jamaica, that have a lot of business with foreigners and can literally see money coming in and going out of the economy, and the movement of the exchange rate is often felt or perceived sharply. But, again, much more foreign currency flows than is visible to the ordinary citizen: banks and other financial institutions, corporations, government and some individuals conduct their transactions well away from the sight of people, as massive flows move between accounts. For the longest while, Jamaicans had to pay careful attention to the exchange rate and foreign currencies because the latter was in real short supply and the former reflected that as it went on a move to lower values. That’s changed in reality as the country moved to a floating exchange rate, though this hasn’t necessarily been well understood by many.
Jamaicans, not unlike lots of people, stake their pride on the strength of their national currency against others. The anguish of a major devaluation or a series of depreciations is real for policy makers as well as citizens, and I remember how Britons reacted when the pound sterling was devalued in 1967, from US$2.80 to 2.40 (14%) and PM Harold Wilson needing to reassure people that the “It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.” Whether Britons understood how this was an alternative to massive foreign borrowing, I can’t say.
Then, we have inflation, or the movements in the so-called general price level. Lots of people struggle to understand that prices going up or down is not really what inflation means, but whether this is persistent.
Wrapping all of that up and talking about each and every as part of monetary policy usually leaves many reaching for the off button or swiping away from that output. Let’s not even try to talk about what it means to supervise the financial system and macro-prudential concerns.
But, what the BOJ has done is to unpack a lot of the mystique and make it simpler to understand. They’re now famous for putting monetary policy to music. What was as notable as the medium was the international acclaim for the initiative:
For what it’s worth, the Bank of England had tried long before to make what it does a bit more accessible, but to a more limited extent, and not in as catchy a way.
But, cometh the moment, cometh the man, and the BOJ has seized the power of social media fully in all its glory.
Generally, the BOJ has sought to really engage the public through this medium. It’s common for it to use its Twitter feed to have real conversations about topical matters and it’s carved out a style that’s also jovial, including with its sort of dorky ‘spokesperson’, Croc-O. Doyle, who has become a literal mouth piece for the bank. Everything you ever needed to know about the difference between alligators and crocodiles was explained by the BOJ:
With crocodiles in the news of late, it's a good time to be reminded that while Agent Croc O. Doyle is a rare individual, office job and all, other crocodiles aren't as sophisticated. 🤓 Regular Jamaican crocodiles do, however, enjoy special status in several ways. #BOJSpeaks 🧵 pic.twitter.com/KVoiLrIdPi
Yesterday, it did something a bit different but necessary in terms of ‘setting the record straight’ by summarily dissecting the misinformation circulated by a commentator on matters economic, John Jackson:
One could say the croc bit down hard on its victim and wrestled the life out of him with some vicious clamping of the jaws.
I don’t want to stir the pot too much more, but this is what we need a lot more of from public institutions: letting the public know what they do on a regular basic and dealing with the flurry of misinformed, ill-informed, or downright wrong facts and opinions. I’m not going to say anything about the style or tone—my own fingers get very sharp edges when people just getting their facts wrong 😉