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

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

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

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

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

Jamaica Observer · Holness promises: The first 100 days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.