What really matters?

I’ve been involved in a few spirited discussions in recent weeks. One has been about getting more women representatives in politics, essentially, the case for and against quotas in Parliament. I’m against. Another, about complex language and whether it’s an essential part of dealing with complex ideas. I don’t believe it is. A few things passed my eyes and ears in the past few days that make me think about how these issues come up, but not necessarily with any debate.

Women and men both have amazing gifts and much to offer. We are generally encouraged to think that having more women in areas where men have dominated will bring clear and better results. A notable argument raised recently was that it would mean less corruption. But, I asked myself, why is that we have a public agency that struggles to do its job, and run by a woman for the past two years? Jamaica’s National Solid Waste Management Authority, has a female head of agency, Jennifer Edwards. As far as I can tell, she has uttered nary a word since the start of the recent fire at Riverton dump/landfill. Why? An acquaintance mentioned ‘jobs for the girls’. Guess what?

Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA
Jennifer Edwards, Executve Director, NSWMA

Ms. Edwards was President of the People’s National Party’s Women’s Movement. She ran on a PNP ticket in general elections. Now, we should not jump to conclusions, but as talk of quotas swirl, persons like me wonder about where merit is put to one side and favouritism comes into play. This gets bothersome with bodies that have been tainted by claims of cronyism in their activities. Corruption is as much perception as actual greasy palms. So, better to remove all perceptions of slipperyness. That aside, clearly, no one woman can be a miracle worker, but if we are interested in better results and good processes, someone has to show me what we are supposed to have gained and what we have gained by placing our bets on a gender.

By contrast, it was interesting that no sooner had news flowed yesterday that the ‘Cuban light bulb case’ had been declared ‘no case’ by Resident Magistrate Judith Pusey, than words flew about the ‘spat’ between her and DPP Paula Llewellyn, and two women who were locking horns (if I can mix my gender metaphors). Justice Pusey had put her foot down and tried to get Ms. Llewellyn kicked out of proceedings in the case. An appeal quashed that ruling. Ms. Pusey refused to recuse herself. The process of impartial judgement seemed to be slipping. But, these are professionals, right. Both women seem to be well-equipped for their posts and I’d have few reasons, prima facie, to suggest that anything other than merit played into their being where they were. But, they got into a professional tiff and…well, it’s good for selling papers.

In a sense, my point is simple. Numbers mean little if they are fiddled. I’m still nervous about quotas.

On the language of the bright and mentally bountiful, I should have been warned when I heard Public Defender, Earl Witter,

Earl Witter, Public Defender
Earl Witter, Public Defender

tell Dionne Jackson Miller that a process had not been “sufficiently purgative“. Metaphors are tough at the best of times. Ones that deal with the evacuation of bowels are always tricky. The interviewer was trying to get some clarification to points Mr. Witter had made in a press conference earlier in the day, about the pending Tivoli Inquiry. The interview between the two did not go well. He was reluctant to understand that he had a duty to explain why his ‘Tivoli report’ had taken so long to prepare. He mentioned how the media had created a “straw man” in terms of ‘deadlines’. He wanted to know what deadlines meant. Ms Jackson-Miller patiently tried to get him to address that, but he wittered on about meaning.  She pointed out that many civil society groups, not just the media, had queried the delays. Mr. Witter went on. The tone got tense. By the time I stopped listening, the interview was nearly over. A lot of talk from the Public Defender and not much good listening. That’s odd from someone who is a renowned lawyer.

When people struggle to explain things simply, it’s always hard for those who struggle to understand. Lawyers may be good at weaving webs of words to obscure the truth and sometimes they get tangled in their own spinning.

Happy? Where’s Jamaica’s morning-after pill?

Yesterday, the world was supposed to celebrate International Day of Happiness. Jamaica was there, too, although in no nationally visible fashion. We’re not miserable people at heart, just living in a woefully disorganised state for far too long. That leads many to feel unhappy when the opposite would be easy to achieve.

I joked yesterday that I was happy because I had full water pressure to take a morning shower. A friend replied that I should be ecstatic because I had water in my pipes.

Water everywhere and none to drink?
Water everywhere and none to drink?

Many communities don’t have that–in the ‘land of wood and water’. Should we call Jamaica ‘the land of would and whatfor’?

Last week, many Jamaicans got excited because a long court case concluded with a verdict that surprised them because ‘the system’ seemed to work. But, so often the daily grind is to get through so much that does not work. Or, living through consequences that result from responsible persons not fulfilling their responsibilities.

We saw that in a near-disaster this week. The main garbage disposal site in the country had a huge fire, which started in a pile of used tyres.

Riverton Dump on fire
Riverton Dump on fire

The agency responsible for managing the waste, does not manage that well. National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) bow your head in shame. The agency which oversees NSWMA, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), does a poor job of oversight. A few weeks ago, we learnt that NEPA was allowing NSWMA to operate illegally, without licences. Part of the reported rationale was the dire financial state of NSWMA. Give us a break! Let’s all cry poverty and see who lets us ordinary folk off our obligations. I think some have loans they’d like eased. Then, have a few days of smoke-filled air and…NEPA issues licences to NSWMA. What makes situations like this doubly annoying is the wall of stony silence that passes for communication. I have seen not one statement from NSWMA about either the licences or the fire. Maybe, the Minister responsible has heard something, but if so have the people heard a peep.

The word that comes to mind is ‘disdain’.disdain-2

That, sadly, is a status word for many things in Jamaica. My father, who used to be a mental nurse, often talks about Jamaicans’ love of silent insolence. Mix that with disdain. … Toxic!

Examples of daily ‘unhappiness’ below focus on the ‘broken’ Jamaica that comes from that sorry admixture. None of them are excusable or hard to fix:

  • Broken car axles … from driving over potholes: visible problems, simple solutions. Who cares? Who should do?
  • Interminable waiting for simple administrative tasks.
  • Landlords who ignore tenants’ complaints.
  • Extortion activities that prevent normal activities. We see people assuming ‘powers’ that no one has given and no one seems ready to take away. The police are reported to be ‘stepping up the fight’ against such things.

    Car parking extortion in Kingston
    Car parking extortion in Kingston
  • Praedial larceny: it’s not just farmers who suffer. A friend told me about her yam hill near her house being reaped by thieves, after she’d waited nine months for her harvest. Adding insult to injury, they roasted the pilfered yam in her yard. Taking people’s hard work and using its rewards for your own benefit without permission is perhaps one of those truly despicable acts.

These examples are not unique to Jamaica, but demand more attention because of the brazenness with which the corrections are ignored or avoided. Also, we often see frenzied action ‘to fix’ things that have been left to ‘get rotten’ over months, years, decades. Take a hard look at downtown Kingston. Take a look at the entrance to the ‘coastal resort’ of Negril. Take a look at downtown Montego Bay. Take a look at Ocho Rios. Take a look at the National Stadium Complex.

Take a good hard look at it all. Ask yourself why has any of that been allowed to happen.

Wheel of misfortune
Wheel of misfortune

Why have Jamaicans repeatedly given position to people who demonstrate clearly and repeatedly that they cannot do a good job?