I really dislike Donald Trump, so this is almost at the edge of my personal tolerance, but I feel a duty to history to try to stay abreast of what I hope is his slow demise. That’s it!
It’s been quite a week in British politics, centered around policing at its highest ranks–Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police resigned-and policing of the head of government-the PM is under criminal investigation for breaching COVID restrictions.
Cressida Dick lost the confidence of the Mayor of London and jumped before being pushed.
She’d been under much recent criticism:
The departure is awkwardly timed, as the Met digs into #Partygate, and if and when the PM participated in the many parties that have come to light while people were supposed to be under strict gathering guidelines.
PM Johnson has now been issued a questionnaire by the police:
The Jamaica Observer editorial yesterday gave its views on this controversial issue:
The typical nine-day wonder has reached the furore over the ‘gun hand’ gesture by Petersfield High School standout athlete Mr Antonio Watson at the 2021 Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the National Stadium.
We have, in the meantime, very carefully reflected on the controversy over the hand gesture symbolising the shooting of a losing athlete – Edwin Allen’s Mr Bryan Levell – and the fierce for-or-against arguments regarding Mr Watson’s action for which he has apologised. The main points we found are as follows:
• The 19-year-old was merely mimicking what he had grown up around in the society, because children live what they learn.
• The gesture has to be seen in the context of Jamaica’s troubling murder rate involving the gun.
• It’s a class thing, and if Mr Watson had been from a top high school his action would be ignored.
• He shouldn’t be condemned or chastised; instead, his vast athletic potential should be nurtured.
• Use the occasion as a teachable moment to espouse valuable lessons.
We made special note of the advice from our greatest athlete ever, Mr Usain Bolt, with whom the athlete is being compared: “Reason with him, yes, about his action, but don’t crucify him… It’s a learning lesson and teachable moment for all. Youths, be strong and remember anything is possible, don’t think limits.”
Noteworthy, too, is the response from ISSA: “Champs has always been a time to showcase and celebrate talent. While we encourage the colourful behaviour of victory celebrations and acknowledge the value and excitement it brings to the championships, it should always be within the code of conduct that guides how we act on and off the field and track.”
It is interesting that the large majority of the criticisms were not about punishing the student, but were centred on what others were saying, which suggests that the outrage was an attempt by the society to assert acceptable standards.
We have seen a similar occurrence in the United States, which is known for mass killings, including at schools. The American media is replete with stories of schools suspending students for making similar gestures, in some cases with backlash from parents.
Since the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act mandating zero tolerance for students bringing guns to school in the US, administrators had been expanding that basic notion to include gun play with toy guns, food shaped into guns, and even hand gestures.
In August 2019 the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that a 64-year-old man was guilty of criminal disorderly conduct for “pointing a finger like a gun at a man, and making a recoil motion as if to suggest he had shot him”.
The Jamaican society should learn from others. We are particularly sensitive that our young athletes be guided, because an international sponsor such as Nike or PUMA wouldn’t want to market their brand with an athlete making an offensive gun gesture.
But for now, we’ll take Mr Watson at his word:
“Upon reflection, I recognise that my gestures could have been misleading and I have no desire to negatively influence others. In fact, going forward I aspire to demonstrate positive behaviours and attitudes that will inspire countless young Jamaicans to strive for excellence and make our country a true beacon of what is good in this world.”
I asked for months what had happened to regular publications of crime statistics. The importance of timely data has been stressed by the minister of national security during the spring and was a concern also raised by MPs, for some time.
It’s been notable, since the pandemic began, that systematic reporting on crime hasn’t been a feature of government briefings. One reason could be that crimes have increased as a result of lockdowns, especially intimate partner abuse.
JCF provided a major crimes update in mid-October:
On Friday, JCF announced that crime statistics were now available of its website in interactive formats:
The new website also provides details of police station locations and routing of how to reach them:
It will be interesting to see how these data are maintained and how they are used by media, politicians and other concerned with analyzing Jamaica’s crime situation.
I’ve written a lot this year about crime and, in particular, murder. The prospect for higher crime, as a result of conditions created by the pandemic, were clear from Spring:
So, the release of data showing a pandemic-related surge in crime and murders ought not to be a surprise.
Some of the comments seem to not see obvious dots to join:
The Gleaner wrote: ‘Among the measures were all-island curfews, which require citizens to remain indoors, and a lockdown of the entire parish of St Catherine as well as several communities in the capital city, St Mary and Clarendon. But according to the statistics, St Catherine, which was also blanketed by a SOE up to August 17, leads all parishes with 123 killings across its two police divisions since March 10.’ It doesn’t take much wit to understand that knowing that security forces are stretched even further than before must leave more ‘space’ in which organized crime can operate. It’s also true that there will be fewer ‘accidental’ observers around; it’s as if the fields have been cleared for only the ‘best’ and stronger players.
The Gleaner also reported: ‘Beau Rigabie, commanding officer for the St Catherine North Police, could not confirm The Sunday Gleaner’s figure, but said gangsters fighting for “dominance” of lucrative turf in the Old Capital were contributing to the killings. Other causative factors, he said, were domestic disputes and street-level crimes committed by armed thugs.’ That seems to confirm my deduction in that the fight for turf is easier during curfew conditions.
Domestic (aka ‘intimate partner’) violence increasing is no surprise as the tensions and conditions that nurture that are more evident during the pandemic, with many more people confined to their homes—school and work, for instance, offer little escape. It’s been a phenomenon noted in many countries.
As the Washington Post report notes, clearly:
‘For untold numbers of women and children around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has meant a twofold threat: The risk of catching a deadly virus coupled with the peril of being locked in confined spaces with increasingly violent abusers.
Official statistics are mixed. In some countries, reports of abuse have risen during the pandemic; in others, including the United States, they’ve fallen. But people who work with victims say that in countries seeing fewer complaints, the numbers mask a darker reality. The closure of schools and day-care centers means teachers and social workers have been unable to identify and report abuse. A growing body of evidence suggests incidents of domestic violence are rising as fam ilies struggle with restrictions on movement and mounting economic hardship.’
The real issues for Jamaica are whether these crises are being seen and addressed or only seen, with hindsight, with the common lament that ‘we didn’t know’.
For context, I started my working life as a transport economist, working largely in conjunction with Crosville Motor Services, a branch of the then National Bus Service, which operated in the Northwest of England and North and West Wales.
It was during a time when local government could subsidize rural transport; I was working for the county council.
For the longest while I’ve struggled to understand how Jamaica’s public transport sector survives. For JUTC, the public bus service provider for the Corporate Area, the answer is simple: all of its inefficiencies—its operations are loss-making and it is overstaffed—get passed on to the tax payer to cover in subsidies (now about J$7 billion) to cover a projected loss for FY 2020-21 (before COVID) of some J$11 billion.
The recent report by the Auditor General covering 2014-19 about the range of malfeasance within the company merely puts flesh on the bones of some of that inefficiency. In past years, we have known that the enterprise was a ‘feeding trough’ and used as one of several avenues for political party favours in terms of ‘jobs for the boys’. We learned more about the corrupt practices of staff (namely the ticket scam) and how that was dealt with mainly by moving to cashless ticketing. Those kind of malpractices aren’t surprising in any enterprise that handles large amounts of cash without appropriate checks and balances and has a large staff complement. The main points of the report, as summarized by The Gleaner bear this out (my stress):
1. Board of directors failed to implement the necessary internal controls to protect the financial resources of the company.
2. Had an unapproved staff capacity costing an accumulated $1.15 billion that was not leveraged for operational efficiency.
3. Management exceeded the overtime budget by $728.6 million, despite excess staff capacity.
4. Failed to advertise vacant positions and engaged staff in unapproved positions or without the minimum qualifications in breach of its human resource administration policy and procurement guidelines.
5. The Ministry of Transport and Works was deficient in its oversight of the JUTC to ensure adherence to the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and the GOJ Corporate Governance Framework.
6. Board failed to implement recommendations of the Internal Audit Committee.
7. Ministry did not ensure that the board adhered to the Risk Management Framework to protect the interest of the JUTC
Other issues in the report:
1) Net accumulated shortage of more than 231,000 litres of fuel valued at approximately $36.5 million between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
2) 36.5 per cent decline in ridership between 2014-15 and 2018-19.
3) 11.6 per cent decline in available bus service between 2014-15 and 2018-19
4) $178.7 million of obsolete spare parts at end of 2018-19.
5) 16 buses (average) out of service for 139 days (average) awaiting parts.
So, in an area where people are heavily dependent on public transport, JUTC managed to under provide, significantly, and faced a massive decline in ridership. That, at a time when fares are relatively low.
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.
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:
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.
I have the good fortune, or misfortune, if you prefer, of having spent much of my life living outside Jamaica. So, as my friend/attorney, Clive Williams said when we first met, “I can see that you run up to the wicket differently.” I do not disagree that I approach many local issues from a different angle/viewpoint. I have also had the benefit of living in or working in lots of different places, so many things I see in Jamaica can be put into a geographical or socioeconomic context that reflects that we are more similar than different, fundamentally, but at different points in our historical progress.
Take, for example, our traffic woes with illegal taxis and the bad driving habits of public service vehicles, in general. I know and have learned (because I studied urban planning) that ‘pirate behaviour on roads is a common feature of many urban developments. In the UK, during the period from the mid-1850s to World War 2, pirate buses created various forms of mayhem on London’s road, first with fare scams, then with ‘racing’ and ‘dangerous’ driving (as many ex-soldiers sought to find work and landed as bus owners in a poorly regulated environment):
‘After the first world war, the situation got worse. There was a shortage of buses (many had been requisitioned during the war) and many ex-servicemen took advantage of the absence of any sensible licensing procedure to set up their own bus services.
By 1924, London’s bus operations had become completely chaotic.
Pirate buses would race their General counterparts, terrifying passengers; take shortcuts to get to the busiest areas for trade; switch between routes to find the best passenger traffic.
Fines for speeding were increasingly common; there were even some more serious incidents of sabotage.’
Does that racing, terrifying passengers, taking shortcuts, totally chaotic, etc ring a bell with what we often see on Jamaican roads, though our passengers often seem sanguine?
For those who have watched the British TV series, Peaky Blinders, you can see the world of post-First Word War Britain up-close and dangerous, as ruthless ex-servicemen turned into gangsters.
The necessary conditions may be somewhat different in Jamaica, but at their base they include similar features to the 1920s UK: a general lack of employment opportunities for able young men, but also a world where public transport is in great demand and the supply is woefully inadequate: we know that JUTC alone cannot meet the needs of the Corporate Area and rural bus services are notable by their absence. Add to that a poor system of regulation and enforcement and you have all you need for mayhem.
None of that excuses what happens in Jamaica, but it means that we wont see change until the basic conditions change, plus we have a police force that is more complicit in its inability or unwillingness to enforce and a general approach by government that it’s easier to offer amnesties, periodically, than to see fines paid regularly. I’ve written before about what those perverse incentives must lead to: Who in their right mind would pay fines when due?
So, as the saying goes: History is prologue.
The Road Traffic Act that is due to go through Parliament may offer some solutions, but I would venture to guess that on the matters of enforcement it is silent, because the powers are there already, but not used fully. We also have the well-known but also untouched problem of members of our security forces being active participants in the business of running taxis and minibuses. If ever you wanted to see an enforcement ‘conflict of interest’ you’d be hard pressed to better that. Some argue for higher fines, but that’s pointless when current/lower fines aren’t being paid on time, or ignored by owners who are themselves implicated fully in both the breaking and keeping of laws.
Many people who like to put golf into a box think of it as one of the prime activities for networking. So, when I went to Maryland to volunteer at the PGA Quicken Loans National tournament, I naturally expected that I would meet a few people of interest. I did! Golf friends from Jamaica. One, I knew, was due to be in the area–my sometime-golf partner, Hubie Chin; some others, caddies from Cinnamon Hill, who were working the summer in the area; others still, a couple who were living in the area and who had mutual golf friends in Jamaica. When I got into conversation with the couple, a main interest was about crime in Jamaica, but after I gave my take on things, talk was positive enough to mention the prospect of coming back to Jamaica. We agreed that there are few better places to live, whatever the realities of crime.
Bottom line: they were chasing dreams…of being with family and friends…of earning a bigger piece of the cake…or just hanging out for the day, thanks to one of the event sponsors…of maybe going back home.
When we met up we had more than a little embrace and a laugh. Those who were around saw what they associate with Jamaicans–a lot of fun and friendliness.
One of the funny things was that Jamaica had a place in the event.
July 1 was International Reggae Day. On Sunday, July 2, my hosts asked me what music I would like as I sat in their air-conditioned box–anything reggae, I suggested. Strains of Bob Marley and ‘one love’ filled the Sunday morning. 🙂
One of the vendors, Lipton, was promoting a mango iced tea, offering anyone a chance to win a huge cooler coloured black, gold, and green: I tried to win, and came away with a cooler in the waning hours of the event. 😊👍🏾 It’s huge! I offered it to my daughter, for hosting me this week.
The team for Lipton had some Caribbean connections and we’d discussed where in the D.C. area one could get good Jamaican food. “Cook us some escoveitch snapper!” one begged. I mentioned curried lobster…mouths drooled.
I wasn’t being paid to be a brand ambassador, but maybe when I travel next I should speak to our politicians who try to attract foreign interests to Jamaica to see whether they want to give me a formal remit. Then again, I prefer to just let the vibes flow, and give the best impression I can of the land that I love.
Earlier this morning, I had half a mind to write about something I’d seen on Twitter, yesterday. Giovanni Dennis, a producer at RJR, posted a video of activity around a crashed grocery truck on Spur Tree Hill (near the border of Manchester and St. Elizabeth). Here it is:
What first struck me about the scene was what it may be saying about the really desperate economic and moral situation of a significant portion of Jamaican society.
That people without much money or the prospect of getting any seize quickly an opportunity to get basic goods for free is no surprise; it happens in lots of poor countries; it also happens in richer countries, too. But, it could happen in an area where people are well-off; it’s just that routes for transporting goods are usually not that close to neighbourhoods where such people live (I know in the USA that may not be true, given the coverage of the Interstate highways. But, the general point is still valid.)
That we could not see any evidence of injured people and what if any assistance was being offered was partly unfortunate, but also telling. Our impression is that the injured were not the prime concern of those at the scene; even the onlookers did not seem perturbed by what they saw. I think that is a powerful image, and message.
Just now, I read that the current Minister of National Security, Robert Montague, was pleading:
“Jamaica, we need to do better! Jamaica, we [cannot] only sit on our verandahs and criticise. It is time to get up, stand up and do something. It is time more people speak up and speak what you know…It is time to get up Jamaica; it is time to draw the line. It is time to stand up and be counted.”
Just a few days ago, in the wake of the failed fraud case against Carlos Hill, because of the unwillingness of witnesses to appear and testify, Paula Llewelyn, the Director of Public Prosecutions, talked about “a demonstration of unenlightened self-interest leading to total disengagement in the process”.
Now, we cannot have it both ways. We know and have seen again and again that the average Jamaican is mired in various states of apathy and antipathy. We can look at turnout at elections for another leg to that stool. We know this! Yet, without even a breath to acknowledge what may be the reason, we are to believe that ‘Poof!’, citizens will see the walls of Jericho tumbling down and suddenly feel urged to get up and hold it up, and if it falls, rebuild it?
Just a few months ago, the same Mininster of National Security boldly saw that citizens needed help: “The country really need fi get under control because criminals a pressure everybody. So, him [Montague] haffi go wherever he has to go to get the thing under control. It [obeah] can work, but a no that alone. The whole nation have to come together as well.” OBEAH!?
In fairness to Minister Montague, he had also previously said he had been ‘specially picked by God to tackle the crime monster‘. Now, I’m not too hot on all things religious, but the link with God-chosen and Obeah-reliance is lost on me. Anyone can help, here?
He’s also taken a leaf from his predecessor, Peter Bunting, who had often called for divine intervention in crime, including in 2014, and when crime appeared to be turning a corner in 2015, some lambasted him for not giving God his due. Well, Peter knew better than to take the Lord’s name in vain, especially when it appears in hindsight that such credit would have been premature.
Most of what I do each day is to look at dot. I try to see what they show when connected to each other, because if one just looks at one or a few, there’s no real picture. So, let’s add another dot.
In the middle of the month, the Inter-American Development Bank study, Restoring Paradise in the Caribbean: Combatting Violence with Numbers, stated (my emphases) ‘The Caribbean region needs to redirect its anti-crime efforts in favor of more interventions that are evidence-based and targeted at high-risk individuals and geographic areas, with improved monitoring of police and justice systems.’ What the IDB study also noted was: ‘Victims are concentrated in neighborhoods with high physical disorder, low trust among neighbors and a gang presence. Even within those neighborhoods, crime is concentrated in pockets.‘ [I need to find out if perpetrators are similarly from concentrated areas.]
So, what does my looking at dots tell me?
- Many Jamaicans don’t care enough about themselves enough to act in their own best interest. (At its worst, they would rather be silent about crime than speak out or act against it.)
- Many Jamaican do not care enough about each other to help even the dead and dying, instead of looking to see what they can get from the distress of such people. (It’s more likely that your fellow Jamaican will prefer to look on while crimes are being committed than doing something immediately to confront it. This goes back to those calls for ‘heroism’ when a student from Jamaica College was stabbed on a bus, allegedly for his cell phone.)
- Ministers of National Security have been floundering badly to put together a coherent policy to tackle the high wave of crime that has been battering Jamaica for decades. In desperation, a call to the people goes out as a statement that ‘we have no idea what to do’.
- We need to drill down to small areas to address the core problems of crime in our society. (That means ‘attacking’ the bases that have been built for political purposes, or created themselves on the back of lax policies that allowed ‘crime’ to be a way of life. Notwithstanding, the first bullet, politicians have shown amply and repeatedly that they can act in their own best interests.)
Good government and governance are built on consistency and credibility. Absent those two things, and all the talk in the world can only be seen as hot air.