13 December 2009

Jamaica – the Blasted Isle

John Maxwell

I have decided not to retire. If retirement does to me what it has done to Mr Edward Seaga the risk is too great, I fear.
Last weekend Mr Seaga was reported as saying that partisan politics has slowed Jamaica's growth.
"Meanwhile, Seaga said that one of the issues that many of the country's leaders have not been able to fully address is "the cultural underbelly" of the society.
"The two-Jamaica syndrome. That is what sets the tone for the social conditions and eventually what sets the tone for economic progress or no economic progress," Seaga said.
He argued that many persons in diagnosing problems facing Jamaica fail to realise the cultural dichotomy.
"The two worlds that we live in - one Afrocentric, one Eurocentric - have different standards and different value systems," Seaga said.
Seaga said that it was at the level of representational politics that it is assumed that the people who come from the folk society will understand what their people are like, and work towards helping their conditions.

I remember writing a column entitled "Sieg Heil! Heil Seaga!" in Public Opinion in October 1965 addressing that very problem. In that column I denounced Seaga for plagiarising the words of (National Hero) Paul Bogle and using them to threaten (National Hero) Norman Manley with "Blood for Blood and Fire for Fire" simply because PNP supporters had booed Mr Seaga at a public occasion in honour of (National Hero) Marcus Garvey.

That speech of Mr Seaga's epitomises for me more than any other single thing, the damage Jamaica inflicted on itself when it elected the first government of independent Jamaica.

According to Thursday's Gleaner "Seaga said that having served under the leadership of former prime minister Sir Alexander Bustamante, he is convinced that the government [Bustamante] formed in 1962 had the best mix of leaders. He also said that there were marked similarities between Bustamante and People's National Party president, Portia Simpson Miller."

It is a sad fact that of that 'mix of leaders' four died prematurely – Ken Jones, Clem Tavares, Donald Sangster and Victor Grant; four had career-ending differences with Mr Seaga – Hugh Shearer, Wilton Hill, Robert Lightbourne and Ronald Irvine, while L.G .Newland, Edwin Allen and Tacius Golding were simply dumped by Seaga. Of their successors the major casualties of Seaga were E.K. Powell, Frank Phipps, Ian Ramsay and later Bruce Golding, Brascoe Lee, Tony Abrahams and above all, Pearnell Charles, beaten for his pains, who comes closest to Seaga's Bustamante paradigm, one of the few politicians with what Seaga calls a big heart.
And this was the toll among his friends and allies. If you happened to be among his enemies, as I was, exile became an irresistible option.
If you happened to be P.J. Patterson you were alternately racially abused as a 'black scandal bag' and set up for lynching by being attacked as a homosexual – a 'chi chi man'. Since most Jamaicans are pretty sensible, Seaga's tenure as JLP leader almost guaranteed Patterson lifetime tenure in any position Seaga coveted. As for me, I am secure, paired forever with Norman Manley, as Seaga's original and best hated
bêtes noires.

Engines of Development

If one takes corporate-speak seriously one would be totally unaware that the smart and discriminating shoppers, customers and consumers, are exactly the same dumb, freeness loving, whining taxpayer aka John Public or, in conservative USA, Joe Six-pack.
The consumer and the taxpayer are the same. If you are a businessman, however, you are allowed to take liberties with your clientele that might be accounted as indecent in relations between rapacious bureaucrats and taxpayers.

Now hear this:

On August 31, 2009, First Global Bank disclosed that it had "uncovered irregularities with respect to its trading operations. Further investigations confirmed that the bond trading losses of approximately US$19.93 million were the result of breaches of procedure and the irregular conduct and reporting of transactions done in US treasuries with overseas counter-parties that were initiated by a senior employee of the bank, who has since been dismissed. At this time there is no indication of a misappropriation of funds."

If this had been a government entity the uproar, I am sure, would be audible in Madagascar. Loud would be the calls for inquiries, transparency, perhaps even capital punishment. Instead, all is genteel and discreet. The money involved, nearly 2 billion J$ is a fairly significant sum, even for me, and I would have thought that most shareholders – had they remembered that they were also taxpayers – would have raised a stink. The money was made good by Grace, no doubt wiping a few hundred thousand off the Directors' bonuses.

Of course, trading losses like these will no doubt be paid for eventually by the taxpayer, not the shareholders, but consumers in another incarnation.
Capitalism, they tell me, is a term of art.

To Arms! To Arms!

In recent days the Daily Gleaner has printed a series of rousing editorials – well, at least they roused me – appealing to the private sector and civil society to launch a revolution in Jamaica, fire civil servants, throw out politicians and generally make Jamaica more like Singapore.
That would really be revolution – as in "Comrades! to the Bastille!"
The most stirring calls to arms these days are written by mild men pretending to be dangerous journalists. That, of course, guarantees that at any given moment they will be talking through someone else's hat.
To compare Jamaica to Singapore in the sixties blows their own arguments out of the water. The bloom of the sixties came from the seeding, manuring, weeding and watering of the Fifties. Within three years of Norman Manley's defeat in 1962, Jamaica began to slide and apart from the notorious seventies, we've been sliding ever since. Singapore prospered on the Vietnam war and the US and British navies. Lee Kuan Yew thought he was imitating Norman Manley.
Please, before you start throwing rocks, go read the basic statistics on production and so on. Mr Seaga who did so much to create a civilised atmosphere (see above) keeps talking about migration as an index of public satisfaction. Fewer Jamaicans migrated in the 70s than in the 60s or the 80s.

And when the Gleaner 'bats' for the wholesale uprooting of civil servants, the newspaper owes it to its readers to explain the factual bases for this argument. Having had to deal and work with civil servants at all levels and relationships it is my view that government employees pound for pound, are better trained, better managed and more productive than their private sector counterparts.
And the Gleaner gives the whole game away when it argus for the cutting of workers rights in minimum wages and severance pay to deliver more profit to a parasitic class of margin gatherers who always keep asking for more more cuts in the personal tax rates, abolition of estate duties, capital gains taxes, you name it; they think its bad.

As they argue for the progressive maiming of the Jamaican state they will find hordes of middle-class boobies who will repeat the mantras Bob Lightbourne and people like me introduced to Jamaica in the 50s through the IDC. They seemed to make sense then. They don't make sense now. Ask Puerto Rico.
As always, the blame is on the poor and their representatives. People who get paid to go to lunch downtown want to slash popular representation to make parliament cheaper and even less effective.
The Gleaner is unequivocal:

"Political parties and their leaders must no longer be allowed to manipulate poor, uneducated Jamaicans, whose votes they perennially milk for the advantage of the political class. A rejuvenated and newly assertive private sector and civil society must be vigilant and willing to speak out."

We need more representatives of the people, not fewer. To get from Orange Grove to Orange Field, both in West Rural St Andrew you need to go through Castleton, in St Mary. The private sector doesn't know this. It probably doesn't know what or where Castleton is either.
In my view if we want a working parliament capable of representing the people we need about 120 MPs to enable a working cabinet, two capable front benches and enough people for working committees. I believe we need a parliament at least half of whom are women, at least half of whom are under 40 and all elected by proportional representation. That would solve the garrison problem and mean that MPs would really have to represent people.
Then we could begin to contemplate democracy, the Arhus convention and real public decision-making.
Chopping down the public sector will mean reduced service for poor people, even more restricted access to their basic democratic rights but higher infant and maternal mortality rates.
It will mean that quasi non-governmental organisations (Quangos or state corporations,) like the UDC will be free to take even more indecent liberties with our rights, freedoms and beaches. When the private sector and their spokes-media talk about transparency they don't mean examining the process by which Robert Cartade is colonising Wareika Hill or Little Bloody Bay. In this country, a European pastry cook has superior rights to most Jamaicans. He can propose to destroy important national patrimony and no one can question him.

The real failure

For me, the real failure of democracy in Jamaica is in the failure of public dialogue.
When parliament had no more power than the average sixth form debating society our newspapers used to publish reams of parliamentary debate
Now that parliament seems to be preparing to repeal sections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we are not going to see the arguments. And having devalued parliament by denying it attention, the media now are preparing to relegate it even more drastically to insignificance.
That's how JBCTV reduced the attention paid to cricket and helped legitimise those who turned cricket grounds into housing developments.
There are always more ways than one to skin a cat.
The removal of real journalists from the ranks of the commentators guarantees that commentary will be untrustworthy. I have never met a journalist without a p[political point of view – usually their owner's. But, even biased, journalists know enough to base their opinions on fact. This is at least, gives the reader a baseline from which to judge the probable reliability of a columnist. These days the so called journalist is a hired gun, a gunslinger for Murdoch or some other billionaire booby who believes himself entitled to rule the world.
I am a Socialist and I have been since before I became a journalist at 17. People know who I am because I don't sail under false flags. I believe people trust me not to lie to them. They may disagree with my opinions, but at least they know they are my opinions, not borrowed from somebody with money or power. That is not true of many people who claim to be journalists.
The media product, the Press as I prefer to define it, advertises itself as a public trust, a purveyor of factual information on which we may all depend. Unfortunately our experience has shown that we cannot always depend on the press.
I cannot forget, nearly 20 years ago, Bryant Gumbel blurting out on Good Morning America that the Oklahoma City bombing, then 'just in'– must have been the work of MIddle Eastern terrorists. Or, last week, when Tiger Woods was reportedly 'seriously injured' after gate-crashing a fire hydrant and a tree. The US press has printed more about that story in a week than it has about Honduras since July or about Haiti in five years.
The Press does not understand that real democracy depends on Information and that without guaranteed sources of real information no democracy is possible. Without the truth Jones Town and Denham Town disappear without a trace. Ask Mr Seaga.
The people need to be guaranteed information as pure and wholesome as the water they drink.
Copyright©2009John Maxwell jankunnu@gmail.com

No comments: