15 June 2008

Trouble don' set like rain

John Maxwell
Most of the world seems to realise that we are in a ‘perfect storm’ of crises but in Jamaica we seem to be oblivious to everything but “Crime & Violence”.
In the early 60s we were obsessed by what was then described as ‘ hooliganism’ then later by ‘rude boys’ followed by paranoid fantasies about Communism and, always, since 1974, by ‘garrisons’.
A garrison by most definitions is a constituency held for too long by the other party. Politicians, whether they know it or not are, according to the conventional wisdom, patrons of the garrison gangs. Its all about ‘politics’, except that most commentators. particularly the most clamant, don’t understand the politics of the Jamaican ghettos and have no idea what happens in them
One thing will shortly become clear; hunger, frustration and economic injustice are the most effective recruiters for gangsters, for “Crime & Violence”. As I said last week, quoting Fidel Castro, ‘bullets can kill the poor and the hungry but bullets cannot kill poverty and hunger”.
In the next few weeks and months we will need to confront several urgent crises:
• Unaffordable prices for imported food
• Shortages of food, hoarding and the need for rationing
• Unaffordable costs imported fuel
• Disastrous decline in remittances
• Big drop in Tourism receipts
• Big fall off in bauxite exports
• Probable collapse in export earnings for bananas and sugar because of drought and storm
• Increasing Unemployment
• Massively burgeoning Triangular trade in drugs and firearms;
For a start
The first thing we need to recognise is that most people are good and kind and reasonable and simply need to know that their humanity is respected and important.
All the adverse conditions above will mean a serious shortfall in government revenue. Even if there were no shortfall, the government would still need massive additional funds to deal with the nine crises listed above.
For instance, it is already clear that the Millennium Highway is on the point of financial collapse. We don’t need accountants to reveal this; a drive on the highway will demonstrate that the road is being avoided by its targeted consumers.
The fall-off in remittances will be most serious because remittances fuel the bottom levels of the society. Money – masses of it – will be urgently needed for social support. People are not going to quietly accept involuntary starvation.
Cruise shipping, will be seriously hit and those few who profit from it will be laying off employees. The doubling of fuel costs will also devastate air travel and the hotels, adding to the misery, as will concomitant layoffs in entertainment, transport and ancillary services. We need to cancel new cruise shipping piers and similar instant white elephants such as new superhotels and casinos.
All tax collections will nosedive especially in service industries.
The government will be forced to realise that there is only one way to find the billions of dollars it will need to stave off social dissolution. That money will only be available from our own resources, by withholding perhaps half of our scheduled debt payments. It will be Hobson’s choice: either not pay the creditors or watch the society go up in flames. We can’t borrow our way out of these emergencies
We will need to subsidise public transport, cooking gas and kerosene or else watch the entire forest cover disappear, followed by the hillside and mountain topsoil.We need to begin restoring and extending the railway
We will need to divert as much investment as possible to the exploration, planning and construction of solar (photovoltaic) and wind turbine power generation and ban all further investment in fossil fuelled power generation --an expensive dead end street.
We need to start NOW distributing seeds and slips -- peas, beans, corn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, sweet peppers, carrots, coco, tannia, dasheen, yampi, etc and other easily grown backyard crops with high nutritional value.We will need to persuade large landowners, in their own survival interest, to disgorge some of the enormous acreages which they don’t use and don’t need. Right off the bat the government needs to ban all conversion of farmland into non-farm uses and, as the British did in the Second World War, require all landowners to devote at least ten percent of their land to food production. This will guarantee more food, increased employment and reduced praedial larceny.
We will need to convince shops and supermarkets to restrain their profit taking and to be willing to buy from small suppliers. We will need to establish a new food marketing agency.
We need to realise that we can no longer pretend to be able to afford to squander water for irrigating sugar or for processing bauxite, the demand for food must take precedence. We need to take back into public ownership the public water supplies recently sold to private traders. We need to recognise the fact that our water is precious, that really WATER IS LIFE, as the NWC slogan has it, and must be under social control.
We need to repair and build new parish tanks and help householders to build or buy their own domestic water storage.
Political cooperation
We need to convince the Americans to put real muscle into halting their sacred firearms export trade.
As I predicted just after the general elections last year, the JLP was likely to lose its parliamentary majority within a few months and I suggested that the PNP should move extremely carefully in asserting its options. I suggested then and I repeat the suggestion that Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson Miller should get together quickly to arrange how to assign management systems for all the crises we face. We need to involve the entire society at every level to ensure our survival. The public interest demands responsible government and community participation in decision making.
If we didn’t know it before, we are now at the time when our development must be sustainable in the protection of everything we value and all of the people of this once and future blessed isle. We need to understand the need to begin eradicating poverty and developing a survival Agenda – fifteen years late – for the 21st century. Even so, better late than total catastrophe.
The time for serious national and community planning and action is NOW. If we manage to do what we need to do, I am prepared to bet that our crime problem will rapidly begin to subside.
If we don’t do what we need to do I suppose we will need to anticipate a renewed and expanded civil war, starvation and mass misery and emigration.
Not only can we make Jamaica work – We are at the point where we have no choice.
Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell

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