#COVID19Chronicles-233: November 27, 2020-New Zealand and Australia reap COVID control dividend as record crowds watch rugby during pandemic

A recent Washington Posts headline blared ‘Australia has almost eliminated the coronavirus — by putting faith in science’:

The Washington Post wrote: ‘Several practical measures contributed to Australia’s success, experts say. The country chose to quickly and tightly seal its borders, a step some others, notably in Europe, did not take. Health officials rapidly built up the manpower to track down and isolate outbreaks. And unlike the U.S. approach, all of Australia’s states either shut their domestic borders or severely limited movement for interstate and, in some cases, intra­state travelers.

…most important, though, leaders from across the ideological spectrum persuaded Australians to take the pandemic seriously early on and prepared them to give up civil liberties they had never lost before, even during two world wars.

“We told the public: ‘This is serious; we want your cooperation,’ ” said Marylouise McLaws, a Sydney-based epidemiologist at the University of New South Wales and a World Health Organization adviser.

A lack of partisan rancor increased the effectiveness of the message, McLaws said in an interview.

The conservative prime minister, Scott Morrison, formed a national cabinet with state leaders — known as premiers — from all parties to coordinate decisions. Political conflict was largely suspended, at least initially, and many Australians saw their politicians working together to avert a health crisis.

Perhaps, most important, Australia decided to follow advice from health experts: ‘Australia’s national response was led by Health Minister Greg Hunt, a former McKinsey & Co. management consultant and a Yale University graduate. Hunt and Morrison worked with the state premiers, who hold responsibility for on-the-ground health policy, to develop a common approach to the pandemic.’

The pay-off for that was that a record number of people went to watch a sports event during COVID. The Guardian wrote ‘The whole city was gridlocked: Brisbane heaves as fans allowed back en masse’:

‘Suncorp Stadium’s official crowd at the State of Origin finale between Queensland and New South Wales was 49,155. It is believed to be a world record since Covid-19 shut down sport.’ Competition had resumed in May, about the time that professional football resumed in Europe:

The country had got COVID under control.

Beforehand, however, New Zealand had staged the Bledisloe Cup rugby match against Australia in mid-October, lifting restrictions to allow fans to attend—46,000 attended.

Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland, which re-entered lockdown in August following a small outbreak of coronavirus cases, were lifted at the start of the month to allow crowds to return to stadiums.

‘New Zealand has been widely praised for its approach to handling the coronavirus and has reported fewer than 2,000 total cases and 25 deaths since the pandemic began,’ CNN wrote.

From early October, it was planned to host matches in New Zealand with capacity crowds. Auckland was at a higher alert level than the rest of New Zealand for several weeks because of a small community outbreak of COVID-19, but moved to level 1 from the start of October.

All of this is in stark contrast with most of Western Europe, Latin America, and notably the USA–where COVID has spiralled out of control. As the Post wrote: ‘As North America, Europe, India, Brazil and other regions and countries struggle to bring tens of thousands of daily infections under control, Australia provides a real-time road map for democracies to manage the pandemic. Its experience, along with New Zealand’s, also shows that success in containing the virus isn’t limited to East Asian states (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan) or those with authoritarian leaders (China, Vietnam).

Notable amongst president-elect Biden’s early contacts with world leaders has been one with NZ’s prime minister, who has offered her nation’s expertise and advice on COVID. All is far from lost for the USA, though much time and too many lives might have been needlessly lost.

#COVID19Chronicles-205: November 2, 2020-Patrick Hylton-Economic Outlook For 2021 And Beyond: When Can We Expect Recovery And How To Accelerate It?

This column, by Patrick Hylton, NCB Financial Group president and CEO, and chairman of the board of National Commercial Bank Jamaica, which appeared in the Sunday Gleaner, is really a good read. I need to reread it and think a bit more about what it suggests:

It’s reproduced below:

*******

Even as sentiment globally has become more positive over recent weeks with more respondents seeing better than worse economic conditions in six months, the path to global economic recovery is uncertain – recent surveys of global executives show that most believe it will take until 2022 Q3 or even 2023 Q3 for a full recovery of global GDP.

The tourism slowdown will likely impact the pace of recovery in Jamaica. In a spiral effect, the pandemic has reduced both the demand from travellers and the supply from institutions (given travel restrictions and closures). As a recent survey on leisure travellers indicates, only around 60 per cent showed interest in travelling, the same amount post-COVID versus pre-COVID, meaning it may take time for consumers to feel safe travelling again.

Table 1 exhibits the economic recovery scenarios.

Uncertainty surrounding the latest vaccine developments and herd immunity evolution (possible by spring to late 2021, depending on vaccine efficacy and coverage), as well as lack of clarity around the economic reaction to unprecedented government stimulus packages, leave a lot of question marks related to the speed of the potential economic recovery in the post-COVID period. In Jamaica, a lot will depend on the results of the upcoming tourism season in the first quarter of 2021 – which could provide further clarity on the anticipated speed of recovery and growth prospects in the long term.

Having summarised these implications and the outlook for 2021, one can ask, what lessons Jamaicans can take from global examples? Emerging changes resulting from COVID-19 could create an appealing platform to drive further economic reforms in Jamaica that can help it become more competitive on the regional and global scales. Balancing health considerations (lives) with economic considerations (livelihoods, especially in tourism with the upcoming peak season) is a critical task that has to be effectively addressed. In addition, acknowledgement and acceptance of new digital trends are critical to staying competitive in the global and regional context. Considering the acceleration of specific consumption trends and observation of key economic challenges in the past, I have identified five strategic themes to consider to drive an accelerated recovery path:

STRATEGIC THEMES

Strategic Theme #1: Accelerate digital transformation through investment in infrastructure and ensuring access to everyone. Our economy has seen the emergence of digital initiatives for several years, but they have been significantly accelerated with the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has rapidly shifted consumer habits. There is a clear consensus that economies won’t return to pre-COVID, non-digital models; instead, we are likely to ride the wave of further digitisation. 

In light of that, it will be important to further invest in availability (e.g., infrastructure) and accessibility of digital services, including addressing the digital divide in information and communications technology between urban and rural areas with tailored policies and alternative supply models. The introduction of simple and widespread solutions at-scale to local citizens and businesses (e.g., mobile P2P payments, a national identification system, e-Commerce, etc.), will allow easier and faster access to information and services, as a result driving up productivity, and reducing inequality. The GOJ has indicated that the development of this infrastructure will be one of its highest priorities.

Strategic Theme #2: Increase financial inclusion and accessibility to drive more opportunities for individuals and businesses. Many countries globally (including Jamaica) have faced challenges with the identification and distribution of targeted stimulus packages to the most affected individuals due to their limited inclusion in the formal financial ecosystem. Accessibility and openness of the financial system to every Jamaican will be critical to unlocking the next phase of economic growth – as it will allow easier access to government support, more opportunities to finance emerging business opportunities or consumption requirements, and greater awareness of building up investments and savings to ensure resilience for the next potential crises.

Strategic Theme #3: Invest more in local talent build-up and proactive reskilling of the workforce to create more employment opportunities and improve labour productivity. COVID-19 has changed the landscape for the overall workforce resulting in a short-term unemployment spike, as well as long-term changes in the type of skill set required for specific job positions. In addition, enforcement of strict lockdown measures to contain the spread of the virus has also brought adverse effects on labour productivity in the short term. Inadequate infrastructure and insufficient preparation of remote work models resulted in significantly lower productivity. 

Long-term investment in building up strong local talent pools through targeted education programmes and focused at-scale efforts to reskill the existing workforce to better fit the requirements of the future could make Jamaica more competitive on a regional and global scale – thus attracting more foreign investments and creating additional job opportunities. This will also drive improvements in labour productivity, which can be further accelerated by investment in capabilities and infrastructure to support remote work, which will be mission-critical to build resilience in case of a prolonged pandemic or emergence of another crisis later down the road.

Strategic Theme #4: Launch a targeted effort to reimagine the local tourism industry and emerge even more competitive post-crisis. Sudden border lockdowns and imminent travel restrictions have brought challenges to the tourism industry. Being one of the economies with the highest exposure to tourism, Jamaica is severely affected by global and regional trends in tourism – particularly by the reopening timelines of critical air routes that connect it with potential visitors. A smart and agile approach to reinvent tourism will be required, as Jamaica prepares for the upcoming peak season at the end of 2020. 

Various countries are using different methods – from enabling ‘working visas’ for digital nomads to attract long-term visitors with high purchasing power (e.g., Barbados, Estonia, Croatia) to attracting at-scale tourists by positioning themselves as a COVID-19-free zone, having invested in support infrastructure to rapidly and reliably detect and contain virus spread. Jamaica has taken the initiative with the establishment of the resilient corridor among a myriad of other initiatives to breathe new life into the industry and to prepare for the new normal.

Strategic Theme #5: Enable significant growth of micro, small and medium-sized businesses on the back of improving the ease of doing business. Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises are critical for the local economy. More than 30 per cent of employment comes from sole proprietors, indicating the significant importance of this business segment for the overall economy. At the same time, these businesses are most exposed to crisis-induced uncertainty and short-term pressure. Governments have made determined moves to support them – based on global research, more than 90 per cent of countries have released SME-focused measures. The Jamaican Government has followed suit with significant support packages. 

There could be an opportunity, beyond the short-term measures, to transform the business landscape for SMEs – by simplifying the regulatory context, creating additional access to financing, and building up supporting talent and infrastructure to drive sustained growth of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. This could be particularly relevant with a view to the development of the high-tech and digital sector.

To conclude, the COVID-19 crisis is a major challenge for global economies and society – it has brought a sudden and unexpected change in our daily lives. It has made a significant impact on the health outlook (with more than 45.5 million confirmed case globally) and introduced challenges on the macroeconomic front. Jamaica has not been spared from these effects.

At the same time, this crisis also creates an opportunity to conduct a thorough transformation of the local economy. This is particularly important given the cyclicality of macroeconomic events – building a resilient and strong economy now, which can be competitive regionally and globally, is critical for long-term sustainability and stability of the economic outlook. Now is the time to take action and jointly drive change to ensure a better future.

#COVID19Chronicles-184: October 12, 2020: Crime has been waving at us without pausing for breath

I’ve written a lot this year about crime and, in particular, murder. The prospect for higher crime, as a result of conditions created by the pandemic, were clear from Spring: 

So, the release of data showing a pandemic-related surge in crime and murders ought not to be a surprise.

Some of the comments seem to not see obvious dots to join:

The Gleaner wrote: ‘Among the measures were all-island curfews, which require citizens to remain indoors, and a lockdown of the entire parish of St Catherine as well as several communities in the capital city, St Mary and Clarendon. But according to the statistics, St Catherine, which was also blanketed by a SOE up to August 17, leads all parishes with 123 killings across its two police divisions since March 10. It doesn’t take much wit to understand that knowing that security forces are stretched even further than before must leave more ‘space’ in which organized crime can operate. It’s also true that there will be fewer ‘accidental’ observers around; it’s as if the fields have been cleared for only the ‘best’ and stronger players. 

The Gleaner also reported: ‘Beau Rigabie, commanding officer for the St Catherine North Police, could not confirm The Sunday Gleaner’s figure, but said gangsters fighting for “dominance” of lucrative turf in the Old Capital were contributing to the killings. Other causative factors, he said, were domestic disputes and street-level crimes committed by armed thugs.’ That seems to confirm my deduction in that the fight for turf is easier during curfew conditions. 

Domestic (aka ‘intimate partner’) violence increasing is no surprise as the tensions and conditions that nurture that are more evident during the pandemic, with many more people confined to their homes—school and work, for instance, offer little escape. It’s been a phenomenon noted in many countries.

As the Washington Post report notes, clearly:

‘For untold numbers of women and children around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has meant a twofold threat: The risk of catching a deadly virus coupled with the peril of being locked in confined spaces with increasingly violent abusers.

Official statistics are mixed. In some countries, reports of abuse have risen during the pandemic; in others, including the United States, they’ve fallen. But people who work with victims say that in countries seeing fewer complaints, the numbers mask a darker reality. The closure of schools and day-care centers means teachers and social workers have been unable to identify and report abuse. A growing body of evidence suggests incidents of domestic violence are rising as fam ilies struggle with restrictions on movement and mounting economic hardship.’

The real issues for Jamaica are whether these crises are being seen and addressed or only seen, with hindsight, with the common lament that ‘we didn’t know’.

#COVID19Chronicles-180: October 8, 2020: Vice presidential debate time

The US vice presidential candidates had their show last night, as Kamala Harris (D) sat opposite VP Mike Pence (R), in Salt Lake City, Utah.

COVID-19 tests before the debates were negative for both:

But, in COVID19 times, did they need to be there? People have pointed out that Nixon and Kennedy had their debate remotely, in 1960:

Precautions were taken, in light of the president have contracted the virus along with a slew of senior White House aides. There was plexiglass separation, though VP Pence has objected:

The Commission on Presidential Debates had agreed to seat Kamala Harris and Mike Pence 12ft apart – up from 7ft at the presidential debate.

Political stakes of the debate had been raised since President Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19:

Health concerns were dominant before the debate, including whether Pence should be in quarantine. All present had to wear masks.

The debate started well but the moderator was again a disaster 😳😩

For future debates, they maybe need someone more forceful like The Rock🤔

Pence adopted the president’s ‘interrupting’ strategy:

Despite that, each ended with about the same speaking time, according to CNN:

Candidates took questions from the public:

Main takeaways, according to the LA Times, can be found here:

Fact checkers had work to do; Pence repeated many false claims the president makes:

Harris won?

Mask rules ignored at the end:

The fly on Pence’s hair was the real winner, sitting there for its allotted two minutes 🤔😂:

Financing creativity-a webinar, plus some further thoughts

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.

There’s interesting literature on ‘creative clusters’ and the idea has useful pointers for generating economic growth and urban renewal. But, it’s not all upsides and can also be trigger for socioeconomic friction (as with gentrification, in general).

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 capital and the metropolitan area.

#COVID19Chronicles-149: September 9, 2020-Some unforeseen COVID-19 consequences and public resistance

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.

https://twitter.com/fufubar1/status/1255252950336798728?s=21

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!!!!

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.

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.

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.

In this and other cases, resistance is framed as ‘liberty’.

So, going forward, it’s worth looking to see if desire for liberty overpowers the desire to survive.

#COVID19Chronicles-148-September 8, 2020-Shiny new Jamaica: land of political integrity?

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:

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.

#COVID19Chronicles-142: Election Day, X ratings-Some pre-voting thoughts

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.

I’ll go to vote early and get my job done.

#COVID19Chronicles-138: August 30, 2020-The leaders debate

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.

Image courtesy of 1SpotMedia

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.