#COVID19Chronicles-204: November 1, 2020-JCF crime statistics now online

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the Washington Post report notes, clearly:

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

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

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

#COVID19Chronicles-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. 

 

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).

#WhetherJamaica? A glimpse at our road traffic woes through an historical eye

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.

When Yardies buck up a farrin: I went to watch golf and a meet-up broke out

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.

Unconnected dots in Jamaican crime fighting

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.

 

Andrew Holness is better than Portia Simpson-Miller: the people have spoken again

I have no doubt that Andrew Holness is a popular prime minister. I have no doubt that he has surprised many people with the way he has led the country since assuming his position as PM just over a year ago. I have no doubt that part of his popularity is not based wholly on a positive assessment of what he has been doing, but a combination of that and a negative assessment of what his predecessor did–or more, accurately, did not do. I tested my opinion in a totally unscientific poll on Twitter, the results of which are shown below. As such things go, the number who voted (145) is more than decent. But, I would not like to take on Don Anderson if he said that many reasons exist why I should not trust the results. But, this is the world of social media, so I will thank Don, but march on regardless 🙂 My poll shows clearly that PM Holness is favoured by more than 2 to 1 over his predecessor.

Some would say, with reasonable truth, that the result of the poll was already known. After all, Mr. Holness led his party to a memorable national election victory a year ago, and also to a resounding victory in local government elections a few months ago. True, other than the fact that our elections are not for a national leader, but I accept that many people vote for the ‘top of the ticket’ when voting for local representatives.

I think the reasons for Mr. Holness’ popularity are several, and I am going to touch on a few.

He communicates, openly. Whether you like it or not, the world of social media is the window through which many now see the world. So, a politician who embraces that as a means of getting across his message is going to look good. Add to that a tendency to encourage others under him to do the same and you get an impression of more and more open communication. I would be lying if I told you that I did not think that his predecessor and many of her team were a communications disaster: unable or incapable of giving clear messages, or worse still living with the deadly sound of silence from on high, when a word or two from that place would have done much to cement the idea that someone was in charge, and the mice were not running the kitchen.

One of the things that happened under the Simpson-Miller administration, and which is hard to understand, is how Portia became an enigma, and almost a betrayal of herself. I have heard her speak with passion about certain topics, namely issues of equity and equality, especially for women and children. But, in her latter days, she hardly went to that well of good words and much commendable action, but floundered in the world of bigger policy ideas, especially on matters economic and financial. If I were a management guru, I would wonder how and why the management of voices was not better, at least in putting in front of the people the clear message that ‘the leader has a team of excellent ministers, whose words and ideas the people can trust’, rather than fumbling and bumbling on topics which had not been mastered. I say ‘mastered’ because it’s rare for a leader to really know all the portfolios, but good briefing and sticking to key messages can make a puppy seem intelligent. Worse still, PSM was turned into a badly functioning mouthpiece that went badly off-message when caught unawares, and was kept out of the public eye as a spokesperson so much that one had to wonder what was really going on. The puppeteers were pulling strings well, but the puppet often looked as if the strings were mostly cut.

The tendency to be unbelievable is something that the PNP administration seemed to embrace and sadly that was led by the leader.

It came with remarks such as how PSM felt the pain of ordinary people, when it came to inflation, and claiming to suffer this in her regular shopping. One need not even go to the perks that are the regular part of being a national leader to start guffawing. Rather than touch a supermarket, PSM could have at least seemed sympathetic had she been seen uttering those words at a regular ‘bend down’ market over a hand of ripe bananas.

It came with remarks, often repeated, about how much PSM loved the poor. So much so, the cynic said quickly that she led the march to create more of them. But, the PSM-led administration did so little to protect the poor or most citizens that the claim was as hollow as the middle of a doughnut. It was bolstered by the regular appearance of scandals that had much to do with cronyism, smelled of corruption, and had the indelible mark of wasting public money that the country does not have.

But, enough of the poor side of the poor-loving.

I think that the new PM has become a master of PR. I am not surprised by that, and am not totally critical of it. Messaging is important, and if it’s not well-managed then it can lead to unnecessary problems. One piece of PR that I have seen, and it’s a bit subtle is how the PM seems willing to step in front of problematic positions. It’s early, so one has to watch carefully how that plays out, but his recent remarks about how to deal with the monumental matter of violent crime and also the lesser matter of ‘music from prison’ suggests that he’s not just going to bend to populist positions.

I am not yet convinced about how boldly he will go on matters of corruption, governance and accountability, and am not happy to see that he let imoportant initiatives like ‘job descriptions’ for his Cabinet were not issued, but can understand his giving ministers another six-months to prove that they can deliver on their portfolios. We will have to wait to see how the poor performers are dealt with.

I’m also intrigued how certain holes that were dug with enthusiasm only for the dirt to start falling on top of his head get deatl with. If I say ‘Caricel’ will you say ‘not well’? (Note today’s story that a sale may be in the works.)

Just in case you think it, don’t! I am not a JLP supporter. My political position is independent. I do, however, try to see a spade for what it is.

It’s really all fake, in Jamaica: new news for old wives’ tales

I wanted to write something about the trend of fake news that is sweeping many countries. Social media and the spread of Internet access has made sharing information and misinformation as easy as breathing in and out. I am not going to rationalize why some people would want to spread things they know to be false. They’re mischievous at the very least, and downright nasty and malicious at worst. But, there are many things that go on in the world that are plausible, and unless one knows a lot about a lot, then it’s easy to be caught out.

So, I’m not going to town on people who believed the USA was going to ease visa restrictions on Jamaica, when we have a new US administration that is dead set against most forms of immigration. I will not lampoon those who thought the story of Jamaica becoming a part of the USA like Puerto Rico was real. Some of these stories pander to what people hope would happen to ease lives that are perhaps set in a fragile way regard their legality.

Let’s not knock it! Elvis lives!

Just looking around what passes as ‘news’ in this island is baffling enough. I decided to just look at random at some of our daily papers, especially those known for more exotic stories. Look at what I found as the main story in one–the ‘star turn’, one might say.

The Star: Condoms being used to apply make-up – Jamaican beauticians reject new trend. Should I believe the report? Do I care? If I had a stock of condoms, would I be concerned that they may start disappearing as the lady in my life strives for more beauty? In the absence of a major loss of memory, would I start to panic if my supply, stored in a discreet place, started to dwindle? Would I wonder if I had wandered a bit too much? Let’s leave it there, with a look at the lovely image the Star put with the story.

Condemned to ugliness unless you use these to rub away the warts?

When the rubber hits the road…

 

What about last summer’s story that wasn’t, of Elaine Thompson being dated by Prince Harry? That was too silly, especially as the pictures used were always of the two ‘lovers’ side-by-side only in two separate pictures. You never noticed?

Princess Elaine of Banana Ground?

We were so besotted by the thought of our new sprint queen being in line to become Queen of England? Princess Elaine of Banana Ground. Let’s invite the Royal Family for a tea party…’Ganja tea, anyone?’ 🙂

 

Then, we had our own ‘fake food’ story just a few weeks ago, with rice ‘made out of plastic’, which seemed to be a rehash of a well-known hoax, but all of a sudden, Jamaicans were finding reason to believe the island was awash with bendy and stickier-than-normal rice. We banned imports. We tested batches of rice. But, nada. Not a grain of truth? But, maybe people just didn’t know how to cook rice! My suspicions were raised when I heard the lady from Manchester utter that well-known Jamaican word ‘spatula’. Yes, the rice stretched…the imagination…for sure 🙂

People are often unsure about news coming from other countries, that seem plausible. Imagine waking to read headlines like ‘Trump wins!’ After sucking back in the mouthful of cereal that morning, how many thought this was a true story? How many thought it was–surely–a hoax set up by the so-called ‘alt right’? Time to pinch yourself and open your eyes. Surprise! Now, anyone who watched the new US president’s first, impromptu, solo press conference this week–which lasted over an hour–will be rubbing their eyes and asking ‘Is this real?’ It quickly became the stuff of highlight reels. 

“It’s all fake news…The BBC…Quiet!…I’m not ranting and raving…This administration is running like a fine well-tuned machine…”

But, the Chinese, who are often the butt of fake news stories are only one silly story away from being blamed by Donald Trump for the flood of fake news that seems to be sweeping his new administration off its ‘well-oiled-machine-machine’ way.

Jamaica, of all places, though! This is the land where people are making new grief out of old gullibilities, by telling mainly older people in the USA that they have won money in lotteries. How more fake can you get? Well…Our Minister of National Security invoked the spirit of his uncle, whom he claims is an Obeah Man–call that a ‘Witch Doctor’ in standard English–in his fight (or is it ‘fright’) against crime. For real?

Maybe, like The Donald, we should just keep yelling “Your organisation’s terrible…Quiet!…Dont be rude!…You are fake news!”

Heaven help us the next April 1.

What are good friends for?

Jamaicans say that good friends are better than pocket-money. I believe it. But, do most Jamaicans have and want good friends, or are they driven in search of other kinds of relationships? To me, that’s an important question any time, but more so as we wrestle with some clear cases of searches for unfriendly relationships: abuse, crimes against persons, and actions that generally disregard the needs of others are on what my eyes land. So, I see the rapist, child abuser, gangster, loud party-keeper, speeding taxi and minibus drivers, insolent or obdurate employee (and that includes the guardians of citizens in the form of the police, mainly, but the security forces overall); and others too many to mention as in the same bag. They all need behaviour correction to give others the space to do well, and stop trying to stop others doing well. It’s too complicated to go into why they do what they do, but that does not mean that it’s ignored.

I may not answer that question directly, but I am going to do a little bit of introspection, and it’s really to test myself and see how I stack up.

A friend, whom I met about a year ago, asked me this morning ‘How goes the month?’ I started answering by saying that I had lost two dear uncles in the past week. Loss of life is something that brings burdens that may last for a long time and I am barely in the process of grieving for them, yet. But, I am staying on the positive side that comes with change and plans for change. We moved house, recently, and the process of creating order and a pleasant living environment is very gratifying. I am not a perfectionist, so I know I can function with things partly done, so long as they are done properly. My ‘office’ has its desk, computer, printer, and accessories all in order. The surrounding space is a mix of boxes and books that are awaiting placement. Bedrooms have beds. We have all our clothes. Our kitchen is well-stocked, so we can cook and eat with relative ease, subject to not yet agreeing where everything will go, and how to flow through some spaces. The garden is full of fruit trees and some have already given gifts, and I was happy to share those Otaheite apples with a friend who lives about a mile away. I got in return some grapefruit and a pot of soup. Friends and pocket-money.

I added that I had fixed some summer travel with my teenage daughter to spend 10 days with long-standing friends in Europe, pass some time with cousins, and catch some former friends in London at the same time; some other friends will come from France to find me in London for a weekend. That’s really nice. Friends and pocket-money.

I’m trying to organize a ‘Thinkathon’ for this weekend, so that some people I know can get to meet me and each other and chew over whatever we feel like for a couple of hours, in the peace of my home somewhere–garden, most likely. I hope we get to know each other a little better and that our sharing of ideas will lead to some changes, because we are also action-oriented people. Friends and pocket-money.

Outside of people, I know, I have much faith in what I know is still a major part of every day life in Jamaica: mutual respect and a willingness to do the right thing. Examples at random from the weekend:

  • My saga with Flow and getting my mobile number ported was completed by the process being done partially, as promised by Digicel, on Friday evening and then finally on Saturday morning. I am good to go. During that process, I had chance to see how Jamaican people are patient in the face of seeming provocation and do not resort to loudness or violence. Thank you, Digicel staff at Loshushan.
  • My daughter is a competitive swimmer. Hydration is important for her. She asked me to get her some coconuts so that she could get that hydration and enjoy the jelly. I passed a man on the road selling coconuts on my way to Digicel on Saturday morning. I asked him to prepare 6 coconuts and I would pick them up on my way home. I got the price and went on my way. Forty minutes later, I got back to the stall. The man was not there, but my coconuts were and ready. I paid, went home and my daughter got a good drink, not long after she had done her early morning practice. I chopped the coconut and she devoured the thick jelly.
  • Sunday was a day full of rain and greyness, and I had no plans to go anywhere, except to get gas in case I needed to go to the country. I headed to Heroes Circle in the early afternoon, after my family got back from church and their impromptu lunch. They brought me a meal and I grabbed a bite before heading out. The young man at the gas station began pumping, then started to clean my windows (not standard practice, in Jamaica). We joked about how Sundays were quiet, but also that Jamaicans don’t like rain. We exchanged pleasantries and I headed home, but had to note the men working on the new perimeter fence to the park. Men doing heavy labour on Sunday is a rare sight in Jamaica. 

So, we have good will. That is well displayed, literally, all around us in the carefreeness of many aspects of our daily life. Look at the images I captured this morning.

Typical roadside vendor

Not a care in the world

This is the Jamaica where you expect to just go about your business.

But, how do we account for those who want to disturb all that and impose mayhem and the carnage that also now a part of daily life? 

A friend took issue with the seeming lack of coverage of a murder in Cherry Gardens a few days ago. I pointed out that coverage was plentiful, if one looked in other places: local papers, Indian papers (the man who died was an Indian citizen), India’s High Commissioner and Jamaica’s PM and senior Cabinet ministers made remarks about the incident, including about the safety of Indian nationals, that I saw on social media, and India’s foreign minister had also commented. My friend then changed his tune to say that it wasn’t on the front pages (whatever that means in the world of electronic publishing and social media). I presume he wanted to see a prominent reference to ‘uptown’ in the pages of murders. There’s a bizarre sentiment, for you, in the mould of ‘uptown lives matter’. But, I also thought that the essence of the murder was not such as to make it a crime of locality: people in the jewellery trade, as Rakesh Talreja was, are often targets of crime, for clear reasons. He could have been robbed anywhere between his work place and his home, depending on opportunity. But, that’s not to excuse the crime in any way.

Finally, I look back at the measures the PM announced to tackle crime. People have focused on ‘preventative detention’ and efforts to get taxis to remove tinted glass. I wont say much on either of these points. But, the latter exposed how unfriendly we have become. Put simply, the taxi drivers oppose being ordered to remove the tinting, in part with good reason–the law allows some level of tinting. So, the taximen have to decide if they should lose all tinting for the sake of safety or press to keep some tinting for the sake of protecting something the law allows. To me, it’s a question of the greater good versus the good of a few. I think that most people would go for the greater good. TOday, the taximen will discuss the issue with government. But, my beef with them is that, rather than deal with their many transgressions themselves (overcrowding, loud music, inconsiderate road use, speeding, breaking road rules, etc) they seek to defend a ‘right’ when it seems it may be lost. In other words, they do not really care for the rest of us but are focused narrowly on their own satisfaction. Taximen are not friends of Jamaica, it seems.

Their self-interested actions offer an uncomfortable lesson. How far can we go if we are only going to move if dragged?