#COVID19Chronicles-224: November 19, 2020-Georgia on my mind: Recount and run-off elections driving the wheelless cart of presidential denial?

Ray Charles sang ‘Georgia on my mind’ live:

Right now, political double-think is on display in the state of Georgia, following the 2020 US general elections. President Trump is trying to contest the outcome of the presidential vote, where he trails by about 14,000 votes (0.3%).

At the same time the senatorial races were deadlocked with the Republican incumbent leading in one senate race, but no clear winner in the special senatorial vote, though the incumbent Republican is trailing; both seats will need run-off races. These races will determine the balance of power in the Senate.

The president is not trying to contest the senatorial votes. But, calling into question the outcome of the presidential vote must mean issues across the board, given that it’s a single ballot paper.

However, the votes are being hand counted in an audit to verify the voting machines, under new state law:

The hand recount is being monitored by the Carter Center:

It was expected to end on Wednesday evening and results issued by midday Thursday :

So far, it has resulted in the a lead for Biden of 12,781 votes, a margin that had shrunk by 1,375 votes over the past week as uncounted ballots were found in Floyd, Fayette, Douglas and Walton counties through the recount. But, few other issues have emerged:

Absentee ballots for the senatorial run-offs started going out on November 18:

The Georgia electorate may be swollen by new young voters who can register by December 7 for the run-off vote on January 5:

Voter registration concerns exist, despite the recent general elections:

Advance in-person voting begins December 14:

The state secretary of state had refused to endorse Trump from January and feels he’s now feeling retaliation.

He’s also indicated pressure from senior GOJ figures, including Senator Lindsay Graham, to toss out valid votes.

He and his family and other officials have also received death threats:

To his immense credit, Brad Raffensperger has been firm in his view that is role is to be neutral though added that Trump lost in Georgia by casting doubts on mail-in voting, which cost him over 20,000 votes based on Republican voting in the August primaries.

#COVID19Chronicles-211: November 7, 2020-Not quite a victory speech

Joe Biden has not yet gotten the 270 Electoral College (EC) votes needed to be officially ‘president elect’, but he signalled that he’s about to assume the duty of care for all Americans.

He spoke to the nation at about 10:45pm, with 253 EC votes according to some media house or 264 according to others (adding Arizona). He has over 74 million votes, some 4 million votes over his opponent. He’s leading in enough states to get about 300 EC votes, though some are close.

His words were soothing and sought to also praise electoral workers trying to uphold democratic rights. He set the tone for his coming administration: “We may be opponents but we’re not enemies.”

Ballots remain to be counted, some of which were legally unavailable for counting earlier. The patient waiting continues and the final numbers must await the weekend, after final voting took place on Tuesday.

#COVID19Chronicles-200: October 28, 2020-NIDS: research by CaPRI and some personal thoughts on NIDS

I can see many advantages to having a single national identify document. However, I know that life can go on perfectly well without one, as mine has, living nearly 50 years in the UK and USA, neither of which has a national ID system (NIDS) and governments and institutions of neither of which has ever confused me with anyone else or misdirected any transaction with me, except through some mistaken address after I moved.

I’ve travelled in and spent extensive time in countries that have NIDS (eg Germany and France) and life goes on smoothly and with hiccups and is organized in ways to maximize State awareness of people and their particulars. However, good bureaucratic organization was not driven by NIDS, but rather NIDS built up them. Any country that has good organization knows how to deliver goods and services to citizens. Any country that has poor organization won’t become good at it because it has a way of knowing citizens’ particulars.

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Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) held a webinar yesterday on research they’d done looking at some general issues related to a national identity system, as well as some data regarding such a scheme in Jamaica. You can watch the recording, below:

They looked at the unbanked and if access to an ID was a major blockage in getting access to social programmes.

They considered young people (under 18), who in Jamaica only have access to a passport as an official means of ID.

Matters of data privacy were highlighted:

Interoperability is a basic problem with the official IDs that currently exist in Jamaica, though each functions well and securely in its own rights:

Independent oversight of a national ID system was discussed by one of the panelists, an expert on human rights:

Amongst comments from the panelists, it was stressed that data protection should precede the issuance of a national ID:

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Some of own views on NIDS in Jamaica are as follows:

Discussion of NIDS in Jamaica been based on several myths. The worst of these currently is NIDS is the gateway to a digital society. If that holds water, then why did Napoleon introduce ID cards in France in the 19th century? If it were a gateway to a digital society, how did the USA and UK launch themselves successfully on that path without national IDs? In the UK’s case, it famously introduced a NIDS in 2005 and scrapped it in 2010.

However, it may appears, NIDS are form of central control of citizens. That’s not bad in itself, though how Nazis used it in the 1930s should not be the model. It’s way to organize society & usually separate citizens from foreigners; again, not bad in itself, but prone to abuse.

Jamaica needs social controls. Is NIDS the answer? It’s a hard sell. Most Jamaicans are known to the State in person and by residence (that latter isn’t so critical in dynamic society). People sometimes refer to the practice of many Jamaicans to be known by nicknames; this can be covered by NIDS. Some have concerns that not all locations have formal addresses. Again, that should not be a major problem for NIDS; many ways exist to determine if a stated location exists (with modern technology, it could be a geotag or GPS location).

Misidentification of people is rare in Jamaica: if one notes police reports, for example, it’s rare for them to state that the person has no name or is somehow unknown. As noted above, it’s irrelevant for NIDS if a person goes by ‘Supercat’ and is also known as ‘Delroy Francis’. Identity is not an issue.

Fraudulent use of ID documents is rare in Jamaica (according to CaPRI)—<500 cases 2014-18, noted above across passports, TRNs and voter IDs.

Nothing stops GOJ from issuing a special ID for people under 18, maybe with the proviso that this be exchanged for another ID when they become adults. Many countries have school IDs that serve such purposes. This could also have the benefit of ‘under age’ people not lying about their age and getting access to age-prohibited items, eg alcohol. (One reason Jamaican may have less fraud with IDs is that lying about your age to get a drink or smoke is not a real problem in Jamaica!)

If the government of Jamaica (GOJ) argues it has problems delivering services to people, it hasn’t shown that’s not its incompetence at work, or problems with financial institutions (pensions issues argue strongly that’s the case as many people wait year for payments), when banking access or identity are not problems. This was the case this summer when NCB had technical problems).

Banking access is a weak reason for NIDS: financial institutions have few problems with existing IDs. Customers have problems opening bank accounts because of references, complying with banks’ ‘know your customer’ rules, and minimum balance constraints. New bank accounts reduce the need for IDs and minimum balances. With NCB’s introduction of its new Quick Save account, individuals will only be required to present a Government of Jamaica-issued ID, a Taxpayer Registration Number (TRN) and J$100 to become a bank account holder; maximum balances should not exceed $250,000.

The bigger problem is that current IDs aren’t interoperable. Can that be fixed? We hear nothing on that, relative to a totally new ID system. But, the question must be answered. Interoperability exists in other jurisdictions but is overcome by efficient operations amongst service and goods providers.

Another major problem is simply arbitrary practices across organizations. All GOJ issued IDs should have the same status. I point to the ludicrous situation where I am trained and certified by GOJ to be the trusted person to attest for others, and that is often essential when conducting many transactions. However, my GOJ-issued JP ID card is not accepted as proof of identification by Jamaican financial institutions! I also point out that my Jamaican driver’s licence is readily accepted as ID when I am overseas, if I choose to not present a passport: I’ve done it recently with banking transactions in the USA.

Digitization brings other problems & they’re not yet well addressed, namely how secure will be the database: systems in other countries have had recent data breaches as their major problems. This was the case in Estonia in late-2017, that affected around 750,000 people.

Accepted, nothing is perfect. But use right hammer and right nails to build the box.

Does Jamaica’s economic progress (increased wealth) depend on reducing informality?

Let me go out on a limb and say that I think the PM’s views are wrong that Jamaica’s economic progress (measured by increase wealth) will be greater if informality were reduced.

Part of the current plan (developed by the preceding administration under finance minster Nigel Clarke) to rebuild the economy is to reduce informality. Associated with that is the aim to increase the number and scope of those who are in the banking system. Now, many benefits can come from this, including making it easier for the state to know who are its citizens and what they are doing. Also, in principle, citizens should benefit from being able to use the banking system to intermediate and reduce dependence on cash. Of course, for many, cash is king because of its anonymity (aka keeping things informal, or less than fully formal).

However, it’s clear that informality has been a boon for Jamaica by giving it greater economic flexibility, which has been a crucial safety valve in the context of many structural inefficiencies.

I have lots of concerns about informal activities in Jamaica, because most of them are distortions. However, removing informality doesn’t automatically remove distortions or more positively create a society that is really full of level playing fields. I have mentioned many of these before, most recently in May, but I will repeat some of them here. I have also looked at them, as have others, as part of what we see as the normality of ‘hustling’.

Squatting:

Capturing land is a bigger national sport than track and field, and has been the route for many Jamaicans to get into the ‘housing market’. Of course, ‘market’ is a misnomer because much of the property and land acquired has been obtained cost-free. If we were to remove informality (and let’s assume we do it totally, rather than gradually) we would then have to watch the real housing market deal with people who perhaps have low capital and income and may not be able to ‘buy’ their way into the market, even if we assume they all want to enter at the lowest end. New demand and supply would have to come on stream and prices will then reflect this. At the outset, it’s likely that excess demand will exist, and housing prices would rise. Simply put, Jamaica does not have enough formal housing to deal with the transfer of people from informal housing. It can be created, but I cannot say how long it would take for some combination of the State and private sector to do this.

Jobs:

We do not need to get STATIN to tell us precisely how many Jamaicans work informally; the anecdotes are extensive enough to do the main analytical job for us: vendors; labourers (urban and rural); work done for cash (which could be from odd-jobs through to professional services that are ‘off the books’—escaping the eyes of the tax authorities); small businesses that are not incorporated and may be as wide as from sole proprietorship through to several employees. (Simple case: one woman has a chicken coop to raise live chickens for sale and eggs; she employs 4 people every 2 weeks to help kill and clean chickens, eggs from a dozen layers produce one egg each a day—all for sale, and hopefully make a profit after cost of feed and ‘wages’ etc are taken into account. None of this is illegal in the sense that these are legitimate activities, but it all happens without any references to formal structures. Banks do not need to participate in financing, holding deposits or other roles. Cash is king, mainly. Money may go to banks, but it’s not related to any economic activity and is likely never going to feature in any tax assessments.) None of this is confined to individuals and corporations can participate as suits their needs and doesn’t cause any moral problems. Businesses could actually be applauded if they did socially responsible things like supporting informal businesses.

There are bigger segments of activity, eg public transport (taxi and minibus services) that can go on with high degrees of informality because our society does not insist on proper licensing of operators and all who are involved in such businesses.

Some of these same activities exist in other societies that are highly formalized and the anecdotes about ‘gardeners’ or ‘odd job men’, perhaps performed by illegal immigrants or others in marginal positions (even students or moonlighting people) can be culled from them, as well as taxi drivers who are ‘asylum seekers’ actual or not. (It’s not hard to manufacture the needed documentation to make everything seem legal and above board—much socioeconomic activity thrives on trust, not confirmation of the basis of that.) In the UK, it could be ‘Polish construction workers’, in the US, it could be the ‘Salvadorian gardnerer’ (none of these are meant to be racial or national stereotypes).

If, for some reason, we choose to formalize these activities when those involved in them are not ready, chances are the worker will not agree (eg no cheques or credit card payments; no receipts, etc.) The jobs wont get done if ‘paper work’ is involved.

Now, all of that is fine because it means that incomes are maximized in many ways. ‘Buyers’ get jobs done/goods bought/services provided for less—lower basic prices and no sales tax/VAT/GCT etc. ‘Sellers’ get tax-free incomes, which they can spend as they wish, ideally on similar informal goods and services (a win-win).

If that were to change, the basic situation is that Jamaica would have to operate on a higher cost/price basis (as all of the taxes, fees, capital costs etc. that should be incurred are recognized).

So, reduced informality tends to give greater benefits to the State, especially the Treasury (ie collector of taxes, revenues, etc.) That comes at a cost to many private operators (individuals and enterprises).

Utilities:

One important element of informality is the stealing of utility services. We have seen during the pandemic an upsurge in complaints about bills, which have pointed to the standard global practices of utilities to try to compensate for theft by loading such losses onto the accounts of those who pay. If the government is serious and comprehensive in its dealing with informality, then this is a huge elephant in the room that has to be addressed. Again, put simply, many people and businesses live beyond their means by consuming utilities services for free or far less than the going rates. If the government were to eliminate that, then it would have to either provide income for people to be able to continue consuming at previous levels or force people to consume what they can truly afford (ie recognize true poverty). Ideally, the government would see the social value of access to water and electricity and have in place a safety net to support some minimum level of consumption for every household. (The essence of this was part of the PNP election manifesto with its proposed J$3000 credit for electricity bills.)

That’s not the whole of the informality story in Jamaica. It goes too to things I know the government wants to address and we should too, such as the identification of citizens as unique and tying that identification into the delivery of government services and goods. But, that is a separate aspect of informality that is to be addressed. It’s not really necessary for the economy to function in the sense that not much really depends on each of us knowing exactly with whom we’re transacting. What we need is to know is: services/goods will be given on agreed terms; payments will be made on time and in keeping with agreed terms (in full, over time, etc, with interest, with penalties, etc); taxes and fees due to the State for these activities will be duly recorded and made properly; any legal rights of workers or providers are respected fully. (That’s how many effective and large financial markets operate.) I might have missed a few things, but I think the idea is clear. All of that could occur if we each were assigned a number and that was all we had to exchange. The national database would then connect the number to individuals. So, we could actually operate the economy on the basis of near total anonymity. If nothing ever went sour with transactions, we wouldn’t really need to know precisely whom we should try to track down for retribution; the system could be able to search for ‘xx22yy11’ and get his/her particulars to then feature in whatever ‘corrective’ or ‘restorative’ processes were involved.

Finally, the concern with informality is also largely about measurement. We have a false picture of many things because data sets only or mainly cover formal activities. That’s not trivial because policy is not going to be well framed if it understates the extent of gains and losses within the country. So, reducing informality for that reason is good, but again, its downside comes from the need to expose to the world things that happily go on ‘under cover’. If we accept that 40% of true economic activity in Jamaica is informal, it means that policy levers tend to only affect just over half of what we want to affect. That’s a huge frustration to policy makers.

I wont talk about illegal activities, and formalizing those. We have to move the moral compass a lot to bring many activities that are now illegal into the formal world because it would be legalizing them. Now, it can be done, eg prostitution is legal, has been decriminalized or abolished as a crime in many countries. But, to bring into the legal frame current crimes like lotto scamming, would push the moral envelope, because it would be near impossible for say Jamaica to legalize it so that our scammers could fleece the world—it’d be great for our budget, though. Likewise, society isn’t likely to want to bring into formality (ie legalize) a lot of violent crimes. Of course, one could posit that these changes happen, but it would be in a world most of us would not recognize or want to live in.

If none of the above is convincing, then take the view of the IMF’s MD when discussion informality and inclusive growth (my emphases):

Take the case of digitalization. It has created more opportunities for individuals to engage in informal employment to supplement their income. Think of all the people who work in the gig economy. But we may be missing gig economy employment in labor force surveys. The informal economy can provide income or a social safety net. But it is a complicated issue.”

I rest my case.

#COVID19Chronicles-154: September 13, 2020: Is the track tilted or the playing field level?

Jamaicans often feel there are at least two Jamaicas, one for the privileged and one for the rest. How blatant transgressions of COVID-19 protocols (as set out in Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) and Quarantine Act) is one area where people are so far patient to wait and see if it’s really one law/rule for all. The case: a surprise birthday bash for uber-star, Usain Bolt. The issues: blatant disregard for DRMA Orders and maybe quarantine restrictions, especially by two footballers of Jamaican origin who currently play, professionally in Europe (Raheem Sterling of Manchester City and Leon Bailey of Beyer Leverkusen), who had arrived on the island less than 14 days before the party.

Bolt tested positive for COVID-19 days after the event, and went in quarantine/isolation. Reports are that Bailey tested negative and is in isolation (the Bundesliga season starts on September 19).

Sterling had tested negative in Jamaica before leaving the island.

He played for England during last week’s Nation’s League series, and his club Manchester City were due to play their first game of the new season yesterday, but the match was postponed.

The behaviour of these elite Jamaican sportsman can be seen in several contexts and one is that they and other athletes believe they are exceptional and immune. The other is that they are selfish and see no issues in undermining their teams and teammates by taking unnecessary health risks.

During the week, two young England players (Mason Greenwood, Man. United; Phil Foden (Man. City) broke COVID-19 protocols while on international duty in Iceland (inviting women back to the team hotel) and were fined by the Icelandic authorities and each been fined 250,000 Icelandic Krona (£1,360) for the rule breach, which must be paid by the individuals themselves and not by the FA or their clubs, and sent home in disgrace.

Footage of Greenwood surfaced this weekend of him using ‘comedy crack’ (nitrous oxide).

More apologies, and excuses—‘Boys will be boys’; ‘They’re young…’ Whatever moral and ethical guidance they’re getting from teams and peers isn’t setting them in good directions.

In passing, Man. City have had their share of issues as Kyle Walker was one of their players who broke protocols at least twice during lockdowns (hosting sex party); but also, Jack Grealish (Aston Villa, involved in car crash while supposed to be in lockdown) in England.

#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-147: September 7, 2020-Every valid vote counts

After polling day on September 3 gave us a preliminary result of JLP 49, PNP 14, in terms of seats in Parliament, the full recount started the next day. Most seats were originally decided by sizeable margins, and the recount didn’t change that or the results. But 3 constituencies had very close races, initially, and would likely end up, eventually, as magisterial recounts, being too close to call.

But, first, we have to go through the basic recounts to make preliminary results final in the books of the. Electoral Commission of Jamaica.

In St Ann South East, where ‘sweetah wid Lisa’ had turned sour and seen a 3000+ majority fizzle to 14, on Election Day, for Lisa Hanna, the recount boosted that to 32. Woohoo!

So, no blood, there, in terms of seats. For what it’s worth, my view is that such a slim showing in a previously solidly held seat doesn’t bode well for any upcoming ‘beauty contest’ for new PNP president. But, they’re a funny bunch, so one never knows.

In Westmoreland Eastern, the result on Thursday had been an 8 vote defeat for incumbent Luther Buchanan (PNP)—who’d won by over 2,500 votes in 2016—by a newcomer, Daniel Lawrence. But, after the recount, the result was A TIE! Unprecedented, it seems at national level, though not in local elections. In such situations, the returning officer (RO) has the deciding vote. Well, he wasn’t ready to cast his vote on Saturday night and decided to sleep on it, literally. Meanwhile, rumblings started and security forces were brought in to quell the tension.

The casting vote was set for 10am Sunday.

Well, in time-worn Jamaican fashion, that time came and no action. Meanwhile, minds were focused on how the RO would decide. He’d reportedly been guided on his options. The prosaic options of tossing a coin or pulling names were there, but people weighed in with ideas like a bun-eating contest. The day was gloomy, and needed some fun to break the malaise. Anyway, just after 10.30, in came all the parties and the party began and was over in no time.

Buchanan had gotten the nod, so for now is the winner by 1 vote, 4835 to 4834.

The RO had decided by picking names from a box, then appropriately marking a ballot paper for the record, and depositing it with a note (not asking to be rescued, presumably 🙂 )

Next steps include the formal filing for magisterial count. We know 100+ ballot were rejected in Westmoreland Eastern and getting any of those accepted will prove crucial. Don’t move!

For now, the overall result stands at 48:15 seats in favour of JLP.

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

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-93: July 16, 2020-Holland pull-up; ants will bite you if you eat sugar in bed

In Patois, we have the expression ‘Haul ‘n’ Pull-Up’—a messed up situation, applied to things or people. So, it’s a short linguistic step to ‘Holland pull-up’

Right now, no matter how you try, it seems you can’t miss that some Cabinet minister is putting his foot into his mouth. We have metaphors about you don’t know what it’s like until you walk in another person’s shoes. Well, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking I’d like to have on a pair of those size 10 loafers that these guys seem to wear. They’re comfortable, often leave no tell-tale footprints, and easy to clean, too. So, where’s that trail of mud coming from and why are sugar grains on the floor?

The answer is simple. A Cabinet minister, clearly lost in translation what ‘Dutch courage’ or ‘going Dutch’ or ‘double Dutch’ or ‘pass the Dutchie’ mean. He’s in charge of the agriculture portfolio and represents a seat in St. Elizabeth, where the Holland Estate sugar lands are located. Simply put, he let his closely connected ‘family’ get their hands on a sweet deal. The Gleaner kindly summarized the details in an editorial this morning—‘Holland Deal Doesn’t Pass Smell Test’. (As it involves sugar, I’m surprised they went for smell not taste test.)

Let’s just simplify the story by saying the minister let a company in which his ‘life partner’ is a director have a sweet deal on control of a 2400 acre piece land, and their son operates a supplies store on the property, apparently unbeknownst to the MD of the Sugar Company of Jamaica (SCJ). The MD is named ‘Mr. Shoucair’, which is so close to sugar that it’s almost ludicrous. Leaving the son aside for the moment, the ‘life partner’ is ‘a member of the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) board, which, like the SCJ, falls under MICAF [Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries]. RADA provides extension and other support services to Jamaica’s farmers. Ms Marshall-Williams is also chairman of RADA’s advisory board for the parish of St Elizabeth, where Mr Lee, her co-director at Holland Producers, is RADA’s deputy parish manager according to the Gleaner.

The Gleaner is clear: ‘For the issue relates not only to Ms Marshall-Williams. It involves, too, a host of other connected parties, an absence of transparency and arm’s-length dealing, as well as, at the very least, poor judgement by public officials in their handling of taxpayers’ assets.’

The Holland Producers and the son’s company were registered/set up on the same day in 2019

Yet, No alarm bells started ringing.

Say what?!

Those of you who took ‘Principles of Elementary Ethics’ know the answer.

In many countries, this would be an appropriate reaction, and a call for smelling salts would be in order, plus a punkawalla to come fan the fevered brow. But, this is Jamaica, where people have eyes that look out to either side and never see what’s right in front of their noses.

I did not hear the minister give several interviews on the radio yesterday, but reports are they were a series of ‘car wrecks’ in communications terms. I just listened to the first 30 seconds of his interview on Nationwide Radio and I can see where the car was heading for the cliff.

Many will be blinking, listening to it, that the minister, living with his ‘partner’ and son, said he has nothing to do with their businesses and knows nothing at all about them. Well, just out of prudence, it’d be a good idea to know, so that one doesn’t unwittingly get into embarrassing dealing with those entities. Sitting back and saying the that ‘people’ elected his ‘partner’ to a position to transact, seems naive beyond comprehension. In that small, rural community, who would not think that having the minister’s wife in a leadership position was a great idea. C’mon man!

What is immediately apparent is that Jamaicans are so besotted by ends justifying means (in this case someone has control of the land and squatting is prevented) that they think that a good serving of a rotting herring (a closely connected person) is a good meal because a plate of food was provided for someone who had nothing to eat, and the stench it leaves or the upset stomach at best it leaves are just normal. This mentality clearly resides in the mind of senior politicians who can only see the deed and think nothing else matters. Brother, history is not so kind, you know.

Anyway, a lot of dust has to settle and many questions should be asked and adequately answered. For my part, I wondered aloud yesterday if the minister did any of these things or allowed them to happen with the advice of his senior civil servants as a public official, or in consultation with a lawyer, if we believe that he had the capacity to act as a private person.

If the lines in Jamaican politics were not already smudged like a two-year old trying to write its name on a wall with chocolate icing, it couldn’t get any more so.

Finally, I’ve long followed events and noticed a tendency for those involved to almost mark their trail with names that fit, so I have a #NameForTheFrame hashtag. So, look what I found out about the meaning of ‘Hutchinson’:ED327F89-8897-4483-A317-6CE623857CED

Don’t try to tell me that your name meaning ‘hug the son of kin’ is not meaningful! 😉

Barren fruit: a region plagued by killing, with Jamaica out front

The priest opened this Sunday’s church service with “Any day you wake up six feet above ground is a good day.” I’d say! It was a slip of the tongue, but had meaning. We usually value our own lives. But, that of others?

He chose as his sermon to stress the theme that life must ‘bear fruit’ (not in the simple sense of procreation, but in terms of being gainfulness) and that it should be done ‘with love’. As part of an instructional process, he elaborated on his theme and sought answers from the congregation about why these two things are often absent in their lives. Selfishness, concern about others’ views came out as reasons, but also fear of rejection. Those who have loved and lost can relate to that latter point. In my mind, I played with the notion of rejection on all sides.

I enjoyed Canon Scott’s sermon, not least for his trying to engage the congregation in a way that set him as no better than them: “I’m no saint!” He asked how many rejected the tenets of their faith as soon as they step out of the church. He knew it, personally, as he felt when people talked about him: his ears twitched. But, some people are just ‘disgusting’, often shown by utter ingratitude as when the woman whose flat tyre he and a friend changed just drove off without a word of thanks. Priestly Scott bit his lip, but his friend was ready to hurl a rock at the woman.

The idea of all-around rejection resurfaced when I read a detailed analysis of crime/murder in Jamaica, written by my good friend, Kevin O’Brien Chang, Cry, My Murderous Country. (Full declaration, Kevin and I have been friends for ages, and have many strongly argued discussions about Jamaican life, often over a long lunch in Mandeville, but also over the phone or by WhatsApp. I find him one of the island’s most perceptive commentators on things Jamaican, and his knowledge of our life and lifestyles are well documented in his books on music and the country. We both try to support our arguments with solid data, and he’s often pointed me to some fascinating trends.)

His basic pillar was Jamaica’s homicide stats are horrifying. The planet’s second most murderous country in 2017. Earth’s highest violent death rate for women. Almost 10 times as murderous as the world average. He went on to argue for a continuation of the State of Emergency, accepting that it is only short-term:

‘We all know the SOEs, in and of themselves, are not the complete solution. But they are indispensable to any realistic strategy along the lines of:

– Short term: Intelligently applied force to normalise matters, by taking the irredeemable out of circulation – namely SOEs.

– Medium term: Social intervention to redeem the redeemable.

– Long term: Ending our education apartheid by enabling inner-city access to decent education, including early childhood interventions.’

But we can continue the SOEs while working on these. How much longer should we keep SOEs in place? The first goal must be to get murders below the psychologically critical 1,000 mark. And if Jamaica’s murder rate can be reduced to Latin America’s average, homicides would go under 500 a year, about 1989 levels. Only then could we consider ourselves a ‘normally’ murderous country.’ (My emphases.)

This is one of the better arguments for not yet removing the SOE, because it’s not just about the time not being right, but putting a reasoned timeline on what would constitute the right triggers to remove SOEs. I say this to contrast to some of the arguments, including those offered by the PM in claiming that 20-25 “dangerous criminals” will be unleashed in St. James at the end of the state of emergency, which he raised during an interview on Nationwide radio. My first reaction to that claim was its total lack of reference to the inability of justice and security officials to do their jobs, properly, in building “water tight cases”. The underlying weaknesses in this reasoning were well spelled out yesterday by attorney Daniel Thwaites, State Of Incompetency:

‘You can’t have hundreds of persons detained on the basis that I may one day be able to come up with some evidence to support some charge against the person”.

Perhaps one of the worst aspects of these SOE is that it accustoms the police to act with impunity instead of doing good investigations and bringing cases with evidence. Is it any surprise, then, that arrests are down, arrests with evidence are down, and firearm and ammunition seizures are down?’ (My stress.)

I’ve had a different concern about the SOEs from early in their recent introduction. Mainly, once it appeared that they were ‘working’ in terms of murders declining, I wondered at the logic underlying their limited application elsewhere. No one should be surprised that those living in areas where murders are being reduced dramatically would want to hold onto what they see as the reason for that success. Naturally, others would like to benefit from similar reductions in their areas. So, if it was really a good solution I always wondered why and how the government chose to extend it. Clearly, the government did not have resources to make the SOE national–taking aside whether this was feasible, constitutionally. Moreover, as Thwaites stresses, the police seem at best no better at crime fighting and even with SOE astonishingly worse. Things like SOE clearly don’t help those supposedly doing crime fighting to be better at that job. Policy makers should be worried about that, not least because public confidence in the police will remain low in such circumstances.

The Bahamas, like many other countries in the Caribbean, has seen its crime rate, especially murders, rise in recent years, recording the world’s 11th highest homicide rate in 2017. In the past week I’ve heard about murders every day on the news, noting that it just had the third straight week of triple double homicides. The reports of these incidents haven’t given much context, but many of them are like those in Jamaica, mainly related to some other crimes (eg drug dealing) or domestic violence. Police Commissioner Ferguson said earlier this month: “These are disorganised persons who are going around, once they have a gun in their hand and want to make a couple dollars, they will go and they panic and things happen.” Asked if the double homicides are related or concern gang activity, he said officers see no connection among the matters yet. However, unlike Jamaica, Bahamians have seen significant declines in violent crimes in 2018 (eg murders down 27%) without any state of emergencies.

I listened during a car ride to a litany of horrific mass murders of members of families that have occurred in New Providence in recent decades; none seemed to have clear motives and the accused either denied the crime or claimed that he had been ‘told’ to do the crimes by ‘The Devil’. Domestic ‘disputes’ are a bane across many of our communities, though mass murders are rare.

We know from international experience that measures like SOEs aren’t often used to address crime trends. Why Jamaica has sought to rely on that makes interesting consideration.

We know that Latin America and the Caribbean has the dubious rank as the the world’s worst for violent crime (as Kevin O’Brien Chang notes and often gets highlighted in international media). We also know that violent crime is a major drag on national economic and social development.

Jamaica’s PM made an election campaign promise that a vote for him would mean that Jamaicans could sleep with their doors open. It was a ridiculous assertion, but in the euphoria of electoral politics, it’s not surprising that it flew high. That a country with its record of anemic growth stretching behind it like a bad odour since Independence, I often wonder why Jamaicans haven’t grasped how crime has impoverished them. They’ve tolerated for decades poor crime fighting from the police. Many have also preferred to quietly cooperate with criminals, enjoying many benefits from doing so, albeit at a heavy price in terms of risks to their lives. That tells a basic story of how government has failed to deliver ‘welfare’ to a large section of the people.

In the words of Canon Scott, Jamaican governments have not borne fruit and done little with love (of its people).