#COVID19Chronicles-109: August 1, 2020-Take a proper gander at the propaganda

If you didn’t know, ‘take a gander’ means to have a look/peak at…something/someone. To ‘take a proper gander’ means to look very closely.

I have a few things in mind, and I also don’t have anything specific in mind, but we are definitely on the general election run way in Jamaica, so let me go there. Here’s the pointer:

News flow isn’t spontaneous and the motivation of those who curate items so that they become news is not neutral. Those who know of events that may be of public interest are also not neutral all the time, though they could be neutral some of the time. All of that is to say look and read carefully in coming weeks because there’s a good chance that what you see, hear, and read is flowing now because it’s believed that it could have a bearing on election thinking.

Timing is everything.

It’s clear to most that some stories have been stored up for a particular moment and the moment is now or close. I drafted a post some weeks ago about the notable profiling of some Cabinet ministers but decided against publishing it because, although none of it was factually wrong, it did point in a certain direction that seemed clear to me. I’m holding onto it until at least after an election and then I will know if I got it more or less right. 🙂

So, as we head into August, it’s good to remember that not everyone and everything is august. 🙂

Today, is Emancipation Day, so emancipate yourself from mental slavery and try to see beyond the words that flutter and are uttered, and what is image and what is mirage.

#COVID19Chronicles-108: July 31, 2020-Transport not of delight: the crazy economics of Jamaica’s public transport system

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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.02D68895-BB2C-427A-8A75-01E99BF5F416

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. 

JUTC loses riders to both private minibuses and taxis, but these are also not viable. However, they are limited in their ability to raise fares and have faced sharp increases in costs. I’ve long guessed that these private operators—especially the illegal/‘robot’ operators—stay on the road—as distinct from stay in business—because they are quasi-criminal operations. Simply put, they are loss-makers in an otherwise profitable activity.

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.”

Other research points to links between taxi operators/drivers and scamming activities. In one of this simple deduction exercises, I figured out some things about how it works.

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. 

 

#COVID19Chronicles-107: July 30, 2020-Oompahed

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Something pithy today. I love playing Words with Friends-marvellous for keeping the brain ticking over. Last night, my tiles allowed me to play ‘oompahed’. Now, I’ll accept that most will have no idea what that means: it’s ‘a repeated rhythmic bass accompaniment especially in a band’. So, the sound is oompah-oompah… Oompah music lives on in many places, but famously in Germany, especially around the time of Octoberfest:

There. But, I went somewhere else, immediately, about 60 years back.

In England, there’s the phrase, ‘Oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumper!’ It means ‘I don’t care at all’, and is a more polite way of saying ‘stick it up your a**e!’. So, as a boy, it was one of those phrases kids would love to say.

Anyway, its origins are in pre-World War Two Britain, thanks to a comedy duo, The Two Leslies:

It became a catchphrase of the comedian Jimmy Edwards. In the 1950s, it was considered quite rude because it included the words ‘stick it up’. So, lucky me, growing up in England in the 1960s 🙂 Apparently, it has died out since then.

 

 

#COVID19Chronicles-106: July 29, 2020-Bank of Jamaica goes primeval

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Lake Placid - 1999

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:

It’s had a number of efforts to calm national nerves about the exchange rate, which is not running away, but people seem to treat with apocalyptic fears with each downturn.

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 😉

 

#COVID19Chronicles-105: July 28, 2020-Looking back, not in anger: Historical lessons about political legacies

What follows is a piece I started about two weeks ago, when PM Andrew Holness decided (July 9) to unleash on the legacy of former-PM Michael Manley. I decided to take a different tack and wrote ‘An economy of truth? Some thoughts on the debate about the Manley legacy’. They say time heals all wounds. So, it’s interesting and instructive that PM Holness did a relatively significant walking back of his initial position about the “misadventure” of the Manley era; “So let me be clear to my friends and otherwise that I respect and love Michael Manley, and I value his work and his contribution to making us who we are. That can never be devalued, and I want to, therefore, put that to rest”

He also said he was “taken aback” by the “furore” over his comments. Well, that shock and awakening to what the public reactions were to what he had said was revealed on his 48th birthday when he addressed the launch of the Professor Orlando Patterson-chaired 14-member Education Transformation Commission at Jamaica House. The commission is tasked with carrying out a comprehensive review of the country’s education system and is to submit its report by March, 2021. A present to himself, but eyebrows singed from blowing out the candles?

Now, I could spend a long time explaining what I understand when politicians are ‘taken aback’ by public reactions to considered remarks. But, put simply, it’s their best effort at showing they misread the situation. We could spend all of our lives trying to figure out how or why that happened, but let’s just live with the fact. The PM is not a shoot-from-the-lip politician, so the crafting of his original position should have come from a good amount of personal deliberation.

The other point we cannot lose sight of is that the impact of the remarks and the reaction must be seen in the context of an ever-impending general election. Whatever tribal divisions exist in Jamaica, there is also a view about certain important developments in our history that can be laid firmly at the policy feet of former PMs, and many now are the beneficiaries and sufferers of those policies. So, it ought not to shock anyone that Manley’s legacy can raise many to their most emphatic state.

But, let me get back to where I was a couple of weeks ago.

I was scrolling around looking for something interesting to watch in mid-July when I stumbled across ‘Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain’; it was produced by the BBC in 2007. It’s a good look at how Britain was transformed from the ending of the Second World War (WW2), in 1945, into the mid-2000s. This is the sort of thing that’s not uncommon in the UK—taking a look back, with the aid of a guide who’s a respected expert in the field, in this case, the BBC’s then-political editor. That gives the story told a certain credibility. One can remember things differently and take issue with the images, quotations and representations of ideas and how policy was framed and what it meant. But, it’s a good primer for many people, who don’t want to read history books—if they exist—or watch a series of documentaries or probe many who lived through the periods.

As I wrote, a debate has been ranging about modern Jamaica, focused mainly on the impact of the Michael Manley regime of 1972-78. Now, whatever anyone wants to argue, if they think Jamaica has gone through turbulent times, they’ve obviously not paid any attention to how Great Britain had its course reversed from being the major world power and the largest imperialist (at one time controlling 1/4 of the world’s population) to being a laughing stock in many parts of the world since 1945.

As I worked my way through 5 episodes, each about an hour, it was hard to believe that Britain’s transformation could be pinned to a single administration.

I went to England in 1961 and left in 1990. Before the 1960s, Britain had come through on the winning side of WW2, the USA was exerting its new-found world power as being financially and militarily crucial to that victory. Russia was pressing its claim for world leadership, based on a radical counter-cultural view—communism, not capitalism. War broke out in Korea in 1950, communism facing off against capitalism, and Russia facing off with the USA. Egypt (supported by Russian arms and money) nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, through which Gulf oil flowed, and the challenge to end that brought the USA and Russia into direct conflict, again, with Israel thrown into the mix. Britain messed up negotiations with Egypt’s president, Nasser, and its PM, Anthony Eden, saw his position in wreckage. So, heading into the 1960s, the UK went to significant lows from the heady highs of war victory.

First, it dumped its war hero PM, Winston Churchill, in the 1945 general election, and in a shock landslide victory, ushered in a Labour Party determined to transform the nation with a policy of social reform, stressing housing and full employment, and the creation of a new ‘welfare state’, the symbol of which was to be the National Health Service (which began in 1948, with medical treatment free at point of delivery).

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Britain went through extraordinary political, social and economic change, to highlight a few:

  • Having opened its doors to the Commonwealth from 1948, the colour of Britain literally changed as immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the West Indies took the chance to try life in the ‘mother land’. The first race riots, in Notting Hill, had lasted several days in 1952.
  • Striking miners (1953, 1969, 1972, 1974) had shown who had political muscle and could hold the country at ransom.
  • The power of the pound sterling—the symbol of national status—was under immense threat, but was devalued by 14% in 1967, under the weight of immense international debt and ballooning balance of payments deficit, as the UK had faced a series of crises since Labour took power in 1964.
  • In 1968, the UK saw violent anti-Vietnam war demonstrations.
  • The Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing campaign in the early-1970s, that brought paramilitary violence from Northern Ireland to the doorstep and streets of England, which had its origins in the separation of Ireland in 1920.
  • The Gulf oil crisis, after the Yom Kippur War in 1973; the end of cheap oil. Industrial collapse loomed and the need for a 3-day week as a national emergency took hold.
  • If we stopped the clock in the mid-1970s, at whose feet would we lay the blame for the state of the UK?

We haven’t even reached the Thatcher years (1979-90). Britain had not joined the EU (in 1973) and had barely tasted the new flavours of the Common Market.

What do we think now of the Thatcher ‘revolution’? Had she been assassinated in the 1984 attempt, then what?

Of course, for personal, political or other reasons, I could look back and point a finger at a political regime and say ‘That’s the villain!’, but the long arc of national progress doesn’t sit on a nice little time slice.

It’s easy to say that Jamaica and Britain are vastly different. But, history tells us that it’s extraordinary that one can pin national success or failure 50 years onto an administration of some half a decade. It just makes little sense. Whatever paths are taken are not just a single direction towards which we are impelled without change; the path can easily start in opposition to an impulse. Today’s doctors without jobs may look back with glee years from now that they were forced to take on different work. We meet obstacles and opportunities, actual and perceived, along the way that make us persist or change direction.

Maybe, the PM did see the world this way and thought that he could describe Jamaica as having taken a linear path straight down from the Manley years. If so, that doesn’t bode well for his appreciation of his country’s legacy or for that matter for a wider appreciation of his own legacy.

#COVID19Chronicles-104: July 27, 2020-WI Global ‘In the Living Room’ discussion: Reboot, Rethink and Refocus

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I was a guest yesterday in a wide-ranging discussion live streamed on the WI Global Facebook platform. We covered a lot of ground in over two hours on how to reboot the English-speaking Caribbean island economies: regional integration, investment thinking and oppportunities, dependence on tourism, and education—all within the framework of what the future focus should be coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Have a listen, in full or in part, and feel free to get back to me with any reactions.

https://www.facebook.com/WIGlobalmedia/

#COVID19Chronicles-103: July 26, 2020-End of a long and surreal football 2019/20 season #YNWA

All the leagues games are done in the professional leagues in England; [layoffs are still coming in the Championship League. The premier league fixtures were all played simultaneously today. With the title already decided, the main interest was in securing places for European football and bottom three spots for relegation. Leicester Ended 5th and will get European football, which was really their season’s goal, and could have been better but for a string of injuries to key first team players in the run in. Jamie Vardy wins the Golden Boot.

Watford go down, and were the masters of their own sorry demise—sacking three managers in the season, including with two games to play :(. Their solace of sorts, was outplaying Liverpool at Vicarage Road to inflict a first defeat on the Reds this season, 3-0. But, they rarely showed such flair or fight. I feel sorry for Bournemouth and Eddie Howe, and hope luck favours them for a quick return. Villa, unable to stop goals, again got a needed one from Jack Grealish, whom I suspect will not have to wear that ghastly away strip ever again. 😦

Liverpool FC were the talk of the season and deserved champions from so far out that it was embarrassing, in a way; having a 25 point lead before the pandemic-enforced break. Many stories will be written about the season.

This sequence defines for me the season Liverpool had: a pass directly from goalkeeper to striker-vision to see the best pass; a searing run, holding off strong resistance-determination to not be second best; a clinical finish-making the most of chances; a run the length of the field by the goalie to celebrate his assist-job done, now let’s celebrate; a good win sealed at 2-0. Great team performance.

After that win in mid-January, Liverpool moved to a 16 point lead over reigning Champions, Manchester City, with a game in hand; 30 points clear of Man. United, in 5th!

Courtesy: BBC Sport

They finished 33 points ahead of Man U, who ended 3rd!

Heading into the final game, Liverpool’s manager laid out the plan for the future: “We will stay greedy”.

The trophy is theirs, so how would they fare on the last day?

The team started by resting five key first teamers and gave up a goal in the first minute—earliest all season. But, they didn’t panic and came back to win 3-1 against Newcastle, deservedly, with the win sealed by Mane, coming on as sub.

Liverpool ended with a record 32 wins—matching the all-time best by Man. City:

They amassed 99 points, 2 more than last season’s amazing total for runner’s up.

More than enough to be proud of, and the fans have yet to celebrate with the team.

YNWA.

 

#COVID19Chronicles-102: July 25, 2020-Courting disaster: WORRYING TREND? GOVERNMENT’S ATTACKS ON SEPARATION OF POWERS

I’m no lawyer, and one day at law school wouldn’t allow me to claim great expertise, either, though I think I have good sense. So, I’ll leave to a well-qualified lawyer to express, fully, concerns I have about the statements made recently by the Attorney General (AG). The reaction by the collective body of barristers/lawyers should be seen as considered, so let the blog post made two days ago, stands in a fuller context.

The AG’s comments:

The Bar Association statement:

Some press reactions:

A less-formal lawyer’s opinion:

A fuller considered lawyer’s opinion:

Recently, a Supreme Court Judge reportedly ruled the detention of some men under States of Emergency unconstitutional and ordered their release. In a…

WORRYING TREND? GOVERNMENT’S ATTACKS ON SEPARATION OF POWERS

My views are really about the continued slow slide into a problem that Cabinet members seems to be on, and that’s a concern because I had noted a few weeks ago how something like that could be the creeping rot that puts the chances of the current administration being voted back in in jeopardy, when none or little was there, in the form of a viable Opposition.

Those who know me and follow my thoughts, know I like sporting analogies. This one is really about whether the team has been told to play out the clock–take a generally passive approach in the waning moments of a contest–or play out to the finish. What’s clear is that the team approach isn’t clear. The captain/PM/coach has given his instructions to the team, but as often the case, some mavericks or those who can’t keep concentration are making silly mistakes and letting a comfortable lead slip away. Two own goals were conceded in quick time and the players at the heart of that were benched. Now, another player has tripped herself on the ball and let it come off her head and roll close to the goal line. It’s being reviewed by VAR, so we won’t know the decision immediately.

#COVID19Chronicles-101: July 24, 2020: Should our official attitude towards domestic tourism annoy me? #Staycation Johnny come lately!

Certain things rile me for their blatant insensitivity for the mass of people at whom they are addressed. That’s why I got riled up when I saw the Ministry of Tourism was launching a ‘Rediscover Jamaica’ programme this week to make residents a ‘priority at this time’.

It had a launch party midweek, virtually.

Several things were just downright offensive in my mind. First, was that now was the time to see Jamaicans as a priority; when the bottom was falling out of the market because of a global pandemic and the seeming low-hanging fruit of Americans wanting to sample ‘paradise’ was no longer dangling within reach.

Second, many also wonder why the primary strategy after the country had been locked down was not to open up the tourist sector first to locals, to give a chance to test out many of the protocols with a population less likely to present COVID-19 health issues than arrivals from overseas, especially from the current epicentre of the pandemic, the USA.

From 2013, when I came back to Jamaica, one constant I’d noticed was the feeling many Jamaicans expressed that they were often seen as 2nd class citizens in their own country when it came to tourism facilities. Yes, some facilities offer discounts for locals, with the showing of a local ID like a driver’s licence, and it often extended to the ‘family’ of the person concerned. That made it nice to share such discount prices with other foreign visitors, who have budgets to consider. So, I know that’s true of north coast features such as Dunn’s River Falls. But, many people felt that they were often seen as unwelcome in the more numerous hotels. But, lower prices for locals at tourist amenities/facilities is a common feature in many countries that have significant foreign tourism markets. This can even be a feature at places like restaurants. 

I experienced the 2nd class citizen feeling personally at Riu, Ocho Rios, when visiting my cousins staying there from England. I had to leave my driver’s licence at the security desk at the entrance post. I was told firmly that I was not allowed to go beyond the lobby; not so surprising, in an all-inclusive, where they fear people may want to enjoy some freebies. But, there’s a way to convey messages, and the hostility of the delivery left me stunned, and I let the manager know it. I also recall the unhelpful attitude in trying to locate my cousin, and a little run-around getting to call her room. After we met, and exchanged some pleasantries, I headed out and went to Scotchies to grab something to eat and swore I would never set foot in the hotel again. Ironically, the nearest I came to that hotel again, was when some Barbadian-Canadian friends came to stay at a villa adjacent to it.

I’ve also had it with another resort in Runaway Bay, where cousins from England were staying, and I let the manager know that I’d blackball the place if I heard any complaints from my cousins. They had a great time. I wasn’t able to join them for breakfast there, but I just popped into Runaway Bay for a good Jamaican breakfast and came back to play golf. 🙂

When we lived in Barbados, we enjoyed our first staycation, when the country launched a programme in 2009 to boost the tourism sector during the global recession. One feature was ‘To lessen the perception that locals paid more than foreign visitors for the same hotel room or activity and attraction.’ We had a great few days at Cobblers Cove, at a discounted rate, and all the amenities and facilities were on offer as normal. That’s been a feature of living in Barbados ever since. You can get the measure by searching the Internet for ‘staycation, Barbados’.

So, I was surprised to not see something similar in Jamaica, almost a decade later.

But, it’s important to note that Barbados addressed upfront the fact and perception that locals were being exploited relative to foreigners. Even if the instances are few, it’s a perception to staunch in a country and culture that has problems already in differentiating between service and servitude.

The Experience Jamaica’ programme was introduced in 2009, but it was a partial programme that ended and resumed each year, and so probably passed many by. That impression was confirmed when the minister of tourism promoted the idea of staycation in a low key way in 2018, by taking a local vacation and telling us what a good idea it was to enjoy our own island. I suspect many missed that, too, not least because it didn’t seem as important or as worthy of much visible promotion as say opening up Port Royal for cruise ships earlier this year.

Fast forward to March this year and the global pandemic shuts down travel and more and Jamaica is now facing a winter chill in tourism like it never has before. Help!

The touting of new records for arrivals in 2019, now well over 4 million a year and revenues around US$ 3 billion, now seems hollow when the new epicentre of COVID-19 is the USA, from which some 3/4 of arrivals originate. The importance of tourism to the national economy, is well known in terms of its contribution to GDP (about 1/3, directly and indirectly), jobs, foreign exchange, linkages to other activities, and overall good image. 

Jamaica works hard to retain its image as a slow adaptor and taking its assets for granted, and sometimes you wonder what policy makers and practioners see going on around them that makes they feel they are somehow immune to the same problems.

Barbados has tourism business of just over 2 million visitors (about 40% from the UK, followed by the USA and Canada) and over US$ 1 billion in revenue. Tourism is its main industry and contributes about 12% of GDP. It’s population is much smaller than Jamaica’s at about 300,000. But, for Jamaica to need to see another economic crisis as its trigger to pull out its finger and generate substantial local tourism is beyond laughable.

My wife has to visit and stay at hotels in Jamaica for work sometimes and I sometimes go with her. We’ve seen enough of how locals are treated, even if in some ‘privileged’ position. We’ve also taken our own vacations on the island, choosing when and where to go, mainly in villas, but also in some of our all-inclusive resorts, which work out well when you’re taking two or more children. We know how costly it can be to self-cater. We have a good idea of value for money when considering what Jamaica offers relative to other Caribbean islands and worldwide. We enjoy a few days’ holidays in Jamaica, often not during holidays, and have also seen that even in the lowest of low seasons, residents don’t get much if any consideration in terms of prices. We can argue the economics of differential pricing, but we also have the simple optics of residents, often tax payers, who’ve funded subsidies for tourism, getting little back. It’s well past time for that to change!

 

#COVID19Chronicles-100: July 23, 2020-Fix the general election date

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I can’t say I’m a fan of fixed election dates, only because I have never been able to vote where that applies, eg in the USA, where I lived, but was not eligible to vote. But, I find the idea of fixed dates for general elections in Jamaica very appealing.

For most of its representational offices, the US has a fixed four-year cycle. So, you can know when your Congressman, Senator and President, at least, will be up for election. You can start planning to re-elect or reject the holder the moment they win the vote for office. That has a lot to commend it, not least, the simple and obvious removal of uncertainty. It can also be condemned for giving a clear timetable for devious and negative ploys by political adversaries.

Jamaica does not have fixed election dates or fixed terms for political representation. In typical fashion, though, Jamaica has been ‘talking about it’ for years.

I’m often critical of politicians for the simple reason that they tend not to keep their promises. I like consistency, and as I say to my children, I don’t make promises I cannot fulfill. So, one of the promises we heard in the heady days at the beginning of the current administration was the new PM, Andrew Holness, saying: “Within our first 100 days of government, we will start the legislative process to fix the date for general elections in Jamaica”.

Jamaica Observer · Holness promises: The first 100 days

Well, we know that legislation was being drafted, but we have no action on that, so as we approach the possible re-election of the PM who made the promise, we are still working within the imprecise maximum five-year term window, which closes in February or March 2021.

Now, it’s not cynical to say that the promise to “start the legislative process” was kept, but whose fault is it that we’re not much beyond the start point?

Now, my general view of the Jamaican electorate, specifically, and population, in general, is that they do not really demand much of politicians beyond promises. In my more frivolous musings, they remind me of little children who can be so taken in by tales of imaginary things and led down many a garden path by the fantastical images laid in front of them. Anyone, who has children and read them bedtime stories know that they can be strung along for hours, and then fall asleep and demand the story of ‘Maisie climbing into the soda bottle and finding a diamond at the bottom’ be continued. “Please, Daddy!” 🙂

So, here we are in July 2020 with no known general election date in sight.

I don’t gamble, but I am always interested in how people speculate on events, especially those which are dictated by the inner workings of people and their minds and processes that are mostly hidden or at best opaque. So, I watched as ‘pundits’ and ‘ordinary people’ speculated about ‘summer elections’. What drove much of the guessing was the PM promising that he would not call elections while States of Public Emergency (SOEs) were still in place, and the current batch (even just added to) was due to expire today, July 23. Well, blow me down with a feather! The man only went to Parliament and sought and got an extension, till September 3; it needs ratification by the Senate on July 24. “So, hold off on that end of August BBQ, Phyllis.”

While we have the gyrations about the date, you’ll have been more than a tad naive to have not noticed that certain types of ‘news’ began to appear once the smell of pork being roasted in the pit was replaced by that of the dust in your nostrils from politicians’ shoes on doorsteps. You know the visits from strangers who suddenly want to be your friend and come with rather large grins, clip boards, and a little bevy of people snapping images and making videos? People talk about the ‘hustings’, but we know that it’s really the ‘hustlings’.

So, the PM went a little roguish and made clear that political ‘dirty’ games were going to be played:

“They continue in Parliament and they are occupying the lands. They have no documentation. They do business there. They are using the Government’s electricity… So we are going through the land and we are seeing many of them from that pot…So we will, like them, just drip drip, drip drip,” he said, suggesting that the ruling party will be slowly releasing damaging information on the PNP. Because we have a little tank and they have a reservoir.”

This was just a couple of days after he had relieved his minster of agriculture of his post for some ‘sweet’ dealings on sugar lands with his ‘sweetheart’ and their son, and sent him to the ‘ante room’ for naughty boy, the Office of the Prime Minister, to play without a portfolio.

Don’t, but, but me about this being any kind of coincidence and not tit-for-tat; the man delivered on his promise! Mr. Wright, MP, knows the PM wasn’t wrong in his prediction, and Victor knows he may be the loser. The PM’s not reserved about looking to breach the ‘reservoir’.

But, guys and gals, the problem with all of this election uncertainty, normally, is that it sets people on edge and they have little confidence about their future and the economy has to stall to ensure that eggs are put into wrong baskets and golden geese aren’t cooked before chickens come home to roost.

This year, we are also in the seismic economic and social shift caused by a global pandemic. Now, the mind of the politician may well tell him/her that, at the margin, playing a little hanky-panky with the minds of voters and pre-election muck-racking won’t matter that much relative to the kick in the teeth suffered from the pandemic. So, give opponents a good tonking. Except, it does. Research has shown that ‘policy uncertainty generated by elections encourages private actors to delay investments that entail high costs of reversal, creating pre-election declines in the associated sectors’.

So, that’s the bottom line for me: not knowing when the election will be is an important drag on economic activity, and in a country that has struggled to grow for the better part of four decades, that’s another 5 kilos on the back of a horse that was already on its knees, though trying to get back on its feet.

The PM had also talked about starting impeachment processes in Parliament, but, let’s leave that there, for now 🙂