Columns

A week after Sandy... the good, bad, and ugly

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, November 04, 2012    

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NOW, I am no apologist for the Government or the private sector. I like to simply state the obvious facts as they appear, and by so doing offer others a chance to make up their own minds, or voice objections or clarify positions.

I raised the facts about signed but incomplete trade agreements with other countries and it flew by without comment. Except for a few cases followed up by my colleagues to obtain the status of these agreements, and the inability to get these quickly (notwithstanding the Freedom of Information Act), no one seems to care.

So I am left to wonder about the policies of successive governments that profess a commitment to free trade as a path towards growth. Governments in the MDCs have been critical of the stance of the LDCs for retaining high customs duties as a way of financing the general needs of government. This was our main reason for introducing GCT as a means of replacing several taxes such as excise, consumption, personal income taxes, and was intended to be sufficient. Despite this, GCT has gone from 10 per cent to a high of 17.5 per cent and now back to 16.5 per cent. If we do have a new policy, then we need to know; in fact we have a right to know.

The hefty increase has been insufficient to satisfy the needs of government and their propensity to spend more than we earn. So the trade agreements that others in Caricom have implemented have not happened here, as we don't, won't, or can't, even as we criticised the OECS countries. Unlike Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, we cannot access cheap packaging and raw materials from the DR or Colombia, so we are twice defeated in overseas markets by government policies that act in conflict with their stated goals. This must confuse the IMF.

Poor Minister Philip Paulwell. The fight to fulfil a party election promise is being thwarted by his own Government. The legal battle won in court against the JPS monopoly is being challenged in a higher court by the JPS, which has now been joined by Minister Paulwell's own Government. The court ruled that Minister Pickersgill exceeded his authority to grant a monopoly.

Special Advisor Dr Carlton Davis has said publicly that he is in favour of a regulated monopoly and although that statement flies in the face of electoral promises and policies, he seems to have prevailed. Minister Sandrea Falconer has also issued statements on the JPS recovery that go contrary to those of Mr Paulwell on the speed of the recovery. When will Mr Paulwell realise who the real minister is and retire gracefully to the back benches or leave altogether?

The JPS preparation appears to have been severely lacking with specific reference to distribution maintenance, and I wonder if this is a breach of its licence, and if yes, what sanctions will be applied?

Now, I am grateful in many ways, as power was returned to my home at 2:00 am last Sunday, compared to Gilbert when I was powerless for nine weeks. So yes, I have seen improvements from the days of government ownership, but realise that we have paid through our noses for the advances that have been made.

The ugly has been the state of infrastructure failure in the east, especially after substantial repair and refurbishing following the passage of Hurricane Ivan. Bridges, mountain road reinforcement and river training seem to have had little impact on water damage, and clearly leads me to question the quality of those contracted to make the necessary repairs. Do we repair for the long term, or do we do shoddy work in order to get a repeat job next year?

The ugly has also been shown through the actions of the merciless looters who have stolen many of the appliances from damaged premises. This mentality seems to be an international feature that accompanies natural disasters. However, I have not heard any such behaviour reported in Cuba, and that makes me wonder about the efficiency of democracy versus totalitarianism under these conditions.

Our prime minister now realises the need for an additional disaster fund that mirrors the characteristics of what is termed as a "captive insurance". What Sister P does not realise is that the discipline of putting money aside for special purposes that continues to grow until it is really essential, is one that seems beyond the ability of any Jamaican Government. The moment any politician sees a savings account with money in it they divert it for other purposes such as constituency funds, electoral malfeasance and, as Omar Davies said, they just "run with it".

Some years ago, the Government decided not to insure certain assets and would become self-insured without setting aside any provisions for disasters. The money saved was squandered on other projects until disaster finally struck. We simply lack the financial discipline necessary and this has been shown in many other ways including the NHT, the Universal Access Fund, and so many other special-purpose funds that may accumulate some excess funds from time to time.

The good has been the outpouring of help from neighbours and friends who offered safety and shelter to others less fortunate, particularly in the eastern end of the island. The good was the commitment of shelter managers and personnel who had the facilities open to receive persons, many having to leave their own families in order to serve their fellow citizens.

I lost power at home on Wednesday at about 10:00 am and my generator kicked in reliably. The big diesel roared until about 4:30 pm when it quit. I restarted it and it ran well for an hour and shut down again for no visible reason. Mr Michael Bisnott of the vendors, Delta Supplies, was there early on Thursday but the intermittent shutoff persisted. On Saturday they took out some component for repair but found that it had been made in China for the American supplier and could not be fixed.

Well, on Sunday morning George Swire called me and apologised for the failure and said that I would have a new one that he had in the country as soon as the road was clear. On Tuesday they took out the original one and put in the new one. No charge. That is what is good about service when people have pride in having a good name and protecting it. This was the norm long ago but is a swiftly vanishing value today. Thanks, team Delta Supplies.

Also good was the refund of vacations that were given by Sandals to persons who could not travel on account of Sandy. That's why they have loyal repeat visitors.

Condolences to all those who have lost loved ones here and in North America, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and Cuba in this great catastrophe. Still others try to pick up their lives, their homes, their other assets, and we must respect that there are greater powers than ourselves. For us the survivors, I say let's give thanks.

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